It’s our 20th Anniversary and we are celebrating 20 years of being EPIC by posting articles every month about EPIC.
This month is an article written by Aoife Gilligan Quinn
It was a role as a mental health and criminal justice advocacy worker in London which lead me to choose to become a social worker. Many of the adults I worked with had grown up in care, or had contact with Social Workers as children. I saw the value of independent advocacy in supporting people to feel heard, and to assert their rights, and I wanted to do this same work, but with children and young people, so that they might access the right supports, at the right time, and avoid the difficult road faced by the adults I met in London.
I trained away from home but came back to Dublin and spent ten years working as a social worker for children in care and their families in Dublin. Joining the board of EPIC has afforded me the privilege of continuing to have an input into advocacy for children and young people in care. I have been delighted by the young people I have encountered, and their fierce determination to drive improvements to the system of care in Ireland, and to ensure that every care experienced child and young person in Ireland is supported to assert their rights.
As a social worker, the sight of EPIC information on display when I visited with children and young people in their homes always brought a sense of relief. It was a simple indication that children were aware of, and would hopefully be supported to access, independent advocacy supports. For particularly vulnerable groups of children, such as those with disabilities, or those lacking access to a solicitor or Guardian ad Litem because of voluntary care arrangements, I saw exactly how vital the role of an independent advocate was in ensuring that these children could realise their rights.
Although there are over 6,000 children and young people in care in Ireland, individual children and young people can often feel isolated and unable to confide their circumstances and feelings in their friends and peers. As a Social Worker, I witnessed many wonderful examples not just of the power of EPIC advocacy in supporting children and young people to ensure their voices were heard, but also to experience the celebration of achievements of young people in care. So many times, children and young people told me with great wonderment of what it felt like to be together with other children and young people in care at EPIC events and activities, and to release that they were part of a large community of children in care. These experiences were incredibly powerful in terms of building self-esteem, but also often served as turning points in terms of children finding their voices and starting to develop their skills for self-advocacy.
We know that the circumstances that lead to childrens’ admission to care can have profound and lasting consequences for their social and emotional wellbeing throughout their adult lives, and we know that over and over again, there have been profound failures in our system of care. Each review tells us that if we genuinely believe in championing the protection of children in care, we must champion their voices.
Twenty years of EPIC is a fantastic achievement, and much important work lies ahead. As Social Workers we must raise our voices in support of EPIC, and continue to highlight the importance of access to independent advocacy for children in care.