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More support needed for care system leavers entering higher education

Nearly 6,000 children in care and 3,035 young adults in after-care in Ireland
Empowering People in Care (EPIC) Youth Council Members Rory Brown, left, and Aaron Ferguson marking Care Day 22, a global celebration of children and young people in the care system. Photograph: Mark Stedman

Aine Kenny - 18/2/22

Training for teachers in relation to the care system and more support for care leavers entering higher education are needed, a care leaver has said.

Rory Brown (22) is a member of the Empowering People in Care (EPIC) Youth Council, and he entered the care system when he was seven. He and his brother stayed with the same foster family for 11 years, and he said it was a positive experience.

Rory is now a primary school teacher in Co Laois and is speaking out on the seventh annual Care Day, which celebrates care experienced children and young people.

There are nearly 6,000 children in care and approximately 3,035 young adults in after-care in Ireland. The theme this year is the African proverb “it takes a village to raise a child”.

“Growing up in care was definitely a struggle. I grew up with my four siblings, my brother and sisters. When we were put into care, we were separated,” said Rory.

Luckily, Rory’s two sisters were placed with a family near by, so they could attend the same primary school.

However, children used to ask them why they didn’t go home together, or why they didn’t live with their parents. “As a young child, I didn’t really know how to explain. I used to tell them I lived with a family but still got to see my mam.”

He said society overall needs to become more “care aware”, and more training for teachers would be helpful.

Many of his teachers supported him to talk about being in care, which really helped him, he said.

Financial barriers

Care leavers face financial barriers when they enter higher education, he added, and they need more support because they may not have parents who can lend them money or act as loan guarantors.

The lack of affordable housing and student accommodation are also impacting care leavers greatly, said Rory. “A lot of care leavers may not have a ‘family home’ to go back to, so making accommodation available to them would help. I know people who have not been able to go to college because of the cost and lack of accommodation.”

Kathleen, a social worker Rory had when he was younger, made a massive difference in Rory’s life.

She was one of the first social workers the family dealt with. “She brought us from school to see our mother every week or every second week. . . you could talk freely about anything and everything.”

She gave him great advice on school subjects, as well as handling mean comments other teenagers made about his care experience.

Soccer and rugby coaches also played an important role in his life, even if they didn’t realise he was in care, said Rory. “It really does take a village to raise a child.”

He also said children and young people in the system should remain positive, even if they have been moved to different placements and are worried about the future. “Care leavers always have more hurdles than other people... but they are possible to get over. There is always someone there to help you, it’s just about finding them.”