Gaps in system after leaving care ‘must be tackled’

A conference around issues affecting people leaving care will today hear that some young people still face uncertainty around the level of supports open to them, despite considerable improvements in the system over recent years.

The conference, organised by EPIC (Empowering Young People in Care) and Care Leavers Ireland, will feature contributions from young people who have recently left the care system, outlining what has worked for them and improvements that could help others.

Terry Dignan, CEO of EPIC, said around 500 young people leave the care system each year upon turning 18, and while aftercare is now a right rather than an option, implementation of supports is still inconsistent across the country.

Under the current system a young person leaving care at 18 can receive continued financial support to the age of 23 if they enter continuing or further education, but if they do not, supports end at 21.

Mr Dignan said that greater flexibility could be allowed in cases where someone who initially decides against third-level following their Leaving Certificate exams but who later decides they want to continue into college or university.

“Some care leavers have had a very fractured second-level education,” Mr Dignan said.

“That’s why it’s important for care leavers to get supports to 23.

“We want them to have the same possibilities as every other young person. There should be a period of time to decide what they want to do.”

He said this is also in the context of foster placements ending at 18, meaning many care leavers do not have the family supports typically available to others as they go through college.

He added that there have been many improvements in the system in recent years, including a recent announcement by Tusla on improving aftercare, but there are still instances where the level of aftercare planning and supports are “sporadic and sketchy”.

The conference will also focus on mental health interventions. Mr Dignan said many adolescents face difficulties in accessing early intervention services and supports; but in the case of some children in care there was trauma in their upbringing, which affects their mental health, self-confidence and self-esteem, and there is a case for better supports and therapeutic interventions.

One care-leaver, Darryl (not his real name), said he is very grateful for the support he received which facilitated him continuing into third-level. He gave credit to successive governments over the past decade and said: “A lot of things have changed and improved over the years.”

He said he believes that resources are available and that they should be readily available to those who need them, stating that while he “did not need to be spoon-fed”, there were “stresses” that he had to overcome in accessing supports that might come easier to young people who were not in care.

Noel Howard of Care Leavers Ireland said there are “still major gaps in the system” that need to be addressed.

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