EPIC Anniversary Article Series
A personal reflection on the early days of EPIC
By Catherine Carthy – founder of EPIC
24th January 2019
On the 15th January 2000, I began work in the role of National Co-ordinator of the Irish Association of Young People in Care (IAYPIC). It sounds grander than it was, as in reality the organisation was a desk on the top floor of Barnardo’s Head Office in Dublin, a mobile phone and a 2-page project proposal.
In the first weeks, I began to draw up plans of how we could action their vision for the organisation. We initially met as a small group of five, but quickly identified a number of key people to be part of a wider management committee. The organisation was still little more than an elaborate proposal with a co-ordinator. Within a number of months, IAYPIC was being recognised as an organisation that represented the views of young people in care and we began to be inundated by requests to participate on boards and fora where the voice of young people in care had been missing heretofore.
The National Children’s Strategy was being drafted in those first months of 2000, and John Collins from the Department of Health asked IAYPIC to convene a group of young people with care experience who would give their views on what they thought should be included in a ten-year children’s strategy. Our first consultation took place in Athlone, on the 12th May 2000 with 13 young people from all parts of the country. I remember the day so well. The young people talked and talked about their experiences in care. They spoke of the loneliness they felt at not seeing their parents regularly, of the heartbreak at being separated from their siblings, of the safety they felt while in care, of the sadness they felt that things couldn’t have been different in their lives and their desire to have remained at home. We passed around a wand and asked them what they would wish for to make things better for other young people in care. Their wishes that day were re-produced on page 96 of the National Children’s Strategy.
That consultation in May 2000 was more than just a group of young people coming together to talk. It was almost a microcosm of what IAYPIC went on to stand for. It was about facilitating a space to give young people with care experience a voice. It was about supporting those who didn’t have the courage to previously speak out. It was about giving them an opportunity to come together to draw support from each other. And it was about giving a strong message to those in governance that young people did want to be involved in matters where decisions were being made about them.
Over the course of my career, I have been proud of many things I have been involved in, but none more than my involvement with IAYPIC. I was profoundly affected by the way those young people talked in that first consultation about the hole in their souls following their removal into care. Their words that day became the mantra for the organisation. They felt disenfranchised from their lives and they wanted their voices to matter. In truth, they so wanted to matter themselves. I hope those 13 young people, in their thirty’s now, know that they did matter, that their words and feelings and wishes influenced the fabric of the organisation that was set up to represent the views of all young people in care. I hope that they are somewhere making a difference in the lives of others in the way they made a difference in my life.
I worked with IAYPIC for nearly six years and I was privileged to have played a part in the initial set-up of what has now become a truly national organisation, where I met the most amazing young people. And while the name EPIC has replaced IAYPIC and the personnel are different, the values and vision of involving young people in decisions about their lives has stayed a constant. In my role now as lecturer in Limerick Institute of Technology, I regularly visit students on placement. I get such a thrill when I see EPIC material left casually lying around children’s homes in East Clare, or West Limerick, or South Galway. Sometimes, I might openly declare my involvement in the set-up of that organisation, but mostly, I just smile inside at the joy it was for me to be involved.
When I left IAYPIC in October 2005, I stole a little bit of memorabilia… and that wand has a very special place in my office…. and in my heart.
For all media enquiries, or to arrange an interview please contact:
Terry Dignan, CEO of EPIC
Telephone: 01 8727 661 Mobile: 087 2370269
EPIC Empowering People In Care is a Company Limited by Guarantee, registered at 7 Red Cow Lane, Smithfield Dublin 7, D07 KX52.