An Exploration of the Experience of Children in Care & Care-leavers with Disabilities

“For the ‘Headphones’, I would say… kind of you’re in your own reality, you’re not really paying attention to the world, and you’re just getting on with your day-to-day life as best you can. And ‘Odd Shoes’ because not all of us fit in the same category or the same box, some people like to be odd and have their own personalities”.


In November 2021, EPIC commissioned Deborah Erwin to conduct an exploratory study of the lived experience of children in the care system, and young people after care with disabilities.

The study has four aims and is centred on the following questions:

  • To develop an understanding of the experiences of children and young people with disabilities while they are in care, in aftercare services or who have experience of the care system up to the age of 26.
  • To enable these children and young people to directly participate in awareness raising, in line with their rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
  • To generate evidence to support policy makers and practitioners to progress implementation of the UNCRPD amongst children and young people in the care system and in aftercare services.
  • To explore the level of knowledge amongst care-experienced children and young people on the UNCRPD.

Key Findings

  • Supportive individuals made the most impact on participant’s care experience.
  • Negative experiences in care came from stigma, insufficient awareness, and obstacles accessing appropriate accommodation. 
  • There were significant challenges in identifying supports & services in a timely and effective manner. 
  • There was limited awareness among participants of their rights under the UNCRPD, in theory and practice.

Key Recommendations

  • Disaggregate data related to children and young people in care and aftercare services by disability to create an evidence-based understanding of their needs and appropriate policy and practice responses.
  • Develop flexibility in systems to enable an intersectional approach to care and disability. This includes the opportunity to ensure supports stay in place for young people turning eighteen and transitioning to aftercare and adult services, especially where a particular disability presents a distinct set of ongoing challenges. It also applies to accessibility issues to ensure all social services – including care placements – can be accessed by all children and young people regardless of their disability.
  • Increase the level and availability of information about disabilities across the care system. A practical example of this which was suggested by one of the participants in the study was to ensure there is a Disability Officer in each Tusla Region to provide support to Social Workers on how to respond to different disability needs. Another practical measure might be to ensure all social work graduates joining Tusla have opportunities to undertake modules informed by care-experienced children and young people with disabilities to build their capacity. Foster carers and residential care workers also need access to ongoing dedicated training and information on the care of a child or young person with a disability, and enhanced understanding of where to access relevant services and supports.
  • Apply a rights-based approach to care to ensure the voice of the child or young person is facilitated and heard in decision-making, particularly in relation to care planning, care reviews and transitions into or out of care and aftercare, especially regarding their access to disability supports and services.
  • Provide additional resources to ensure all children and young people with disabilities in care and aftercare have timely and effective access to quality supports and services.

Read the full report | Read the Executive Summary

This report was written by Deborah Erwin, with input from Conor Stitt, EPIC’s Research and Policy Manager, and the support of John Murphy, EPIC’s Advocacy and Research Officer.

This project has received funding from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Grants Scheme as part of the Commission’s statutory power to provide grants to promote human rights and equality under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014. The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.

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