EPIC 20th Anniversary Article Series
Part One: An EPIC Journey – 2005 – 2016
By Jennifer Gargan
Joining IAYPIC (now EPIC) in July 2005 I had no idea how the organization would change over the next 11 years of my time as CEO. At that time IAYPIC consisted of myself, an Office Manager, a national office in Smithfield and an ambitious Strategic Plan, without sufficient resources to deliver it.
Fortunately, the culture and climate within the Children’s sector, the HSE Children and Family Services, the Government and the general public was rapidly changing, bringing about an understanding of the rights of children to be safe, to be heard and to participate in decisions affecting their lives. Over the next few years the development of the National Children’s Strategy, appointment of an Ombudsman for Children, the appointment of the first Minister for Children, the Ryan Report and finally the Children’s Rights referendum brought children to the forefront of the political agenda.
In 2006 IAYPIC’s first members of staff working directly with children were appointed with funding from the HSE Children and Family Services in North Dublin. The Children’s Rights and Participation Officers, affectionately known as CRAP Officers by the young people, soon became aware that what young people really wanted from IAYPIC was a 1:1 advocacy service to provide them with support, advice, help them to be heard, to be involved in decisions about their care and to help them to understand and navigate the care system. A consistent message coming directly from the young people during the early days of the service was the lack of Aftercare Services when they reached the age of 18 and “aged out” of the care system.
In 2007 with funding from the Vodafone Ireland Foundation IAYPIC was able to employ an Aftercare Officer to work directly with young people as they reached the age of 18. Throughout these early stages IAYPIC’s three staff members working directly with children and young people worked tirelessly to engage with Social Workers, residential care services and foster carers to raise awareness about IAYPIC and to gain their support to help them link in directly with young people.
Gradually over the next couple of years more and more young people were coming to IAYPIC seeking advice and information on a wide range of issues including lack of services and resources, placement issues, access with family, support and information and the need for aftercare services. Hearing directly from young people and the issues affecting them enabled IAYPIC to bring a strong message to policy and decision makers and make a case for changes needed in the care system. IAYPIC was at the forefront of the campaign for aftercare to be provided as a right to those leaving care and fought tirelessly for many years to change the legislation to bring this about. Eventually in 2015, the Child Care Amendment Act provided a legal obligation on Tusla to ensure that young people leaving care and those eligible aged over 18 would have a needs assessment and an aftercare plan. This Act commenced in September 2017 to bring about a national approach to aftercare provision.
There is still much more to be done to provide universal aftercare services for all those leaving care. The most vulnerable young people are often unable to access and engage with the supports and services they need and often fall outside the system. However, looking back to 2005 I can see that there have been significant improvements in aftercare services which are benefitting many young people and enabling many more of them to access education and training courses, develop their potential and take their places in our society as confident and happy young adults.
By 2007 – 2008 it became clear that IAYPIC needed additional resources and funding to further develop the organization , enable it to develop policy advocacy, research and communications capacity and become a national voice for children in care. Despite continuing efforts we were unsuccessful in attracting funding from the HSE to grow the advocacy work with children and young people. Unknown to us at that time the storm clouds of the economic downturn were gathering on the horizon. In 2008 following initial discussion with the Atlantic Philanthropies we were invited to submit a proposal which was successful, providing us with funding to develop our next Strategic Plan and employ Policy and Research Officers.
During the years 2009 to 2012 the number of advocacy cases grew from 61 to 120 per annum. With only three members of staff working all over the country the service was stretched and we were unable to provide locally based services outside North Dublin. There was a huge demand from all areas of the country but unfortunately no funding forthcoming from the HSE which was under enormous financial stresses at that time.