EPIC 20th Anniversary Article Series
A Reflection on being a Young Person Volunteer with IAYPIC in 2000
By Josephine Costello
Wow!!! 20 years of young people in care in Ireland having a voice. My involvement with EPIC began back at the first consultation day in Athlone on the 12thof May 2000. I had just left residential care and I was asked if I would participate in a consultation day regarding young people’s views of being in care and I jumped at the chance. That day opened my eyes to the fact that although my experience of being in care was very positive, not everyone else was so lucky. I remember being sad hearing some of their stories, but I also remember it creating a fire in me to want to be part of the change that was needed. I spoke to Catherine Carty, the then co-ordinator, and said I would like to be more involved. I am pretty sure she would have asked me anyways, as I did not stop talking that day! It was not long after, that Catherine contacted me and asked if I would like to travel with her and Natasha to Austria, to attend the European Youth in Care Conference. What an opportunity! We were able to spend time with other young people discussing issues that we had and things we would like changed.
One of the greatest opportunities I had when I was in Austria, was being asked to sit on a panel in front of professionals from all over Europe, and answer questions that would give them insight into young people’s experiences in Care. At that moment, I represented not only the young people in Ireland who were in care, but also young people from all over Europe who were in care. When I returned from Austria, I joined the management committee of IAYPIC (now called EPIC) and got to attend many different consultations and conferences around the country. I was a voice for young people in care and I was able to share some of the stories that the young people had shared on our consultation days. I remember sitting in the IAYPIC office, and having a conversation with Brian Lenihan, the then Minister for Children, and getting to share with him my experience of care, the changes I would like to see, and how other young people want to be heard. He was so attentive and took in everything that we had to say to him. There was a lot of hard work put in during those early days and so many people were invested. For me, my greatest accomplishment during that time, was working alongside Catherine Carty to co-author the book, Here 2B Heard. Working on that publication was incredible for me because it gave me the opportunity to meet many like-minded young people, and it gave me the chance to talk with them about their experiences in care, what changes they would like to see and what good experience in care looked like to them. It gave me a sense of community and a sense of family.
For many young people in care, family is limited or non-existent. IAYPIC created opportunities for young people to come together where they learned that they were not alone and that they had a voice. IAYPIC also showed young people that they did not only want to work on behalf of them, they wanted to include young people in decisions that were made within the organisation. It was in 2003, when President Mary McAleese formally launched IAYPIC, in Croke Park. Nearly 200 young people attended that day to represent the 4,510 young people who were in the care system at that time. I remember seeing a lot of professionals, different organisations and the President herself, listen as some of us spoke about what we saw the future of children in care looking like and the changes that we thought needed to be made. This brought tears to my eyes because it was at that moment that I knew IAYPIC was going to create change and people were going to listen at last.
I went on to study my degree in social studies and work with children and young people in various areas of the care system. The biggest impact IAYPIC had on me, was that it created a mind-set of how I should, and in the future would, work with young people. It showed me how important it was to have young people be at the centre of decisions that involved them, and how supporting them in finding and using their voice was going to create a more positive experience for them, especially during times when they feel like life is difficult and nobody cares. IAYPIC, now EPIC, has and will continue to create through their work, better professionals who work with young people in care, happier young people who feel that they are being heard and an overall better care service in Ireland. To say I am proud that I played a small part in that is an understatement!
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