The following article was jointly penned by EPIC, Empowering People in Care, Youth Council Members Alan Fay, Lauren O'Toole, Rory Brown, Jasmine Mooney, Clara O'Shea Collins, and Aaron Ferguson. They wish to extend a heartfelt thanks to everyone who supported Care Day 22 and a big hello from Ireland to all the other care-experienced children and young people across the world :)
Right now, there are close to 6,000 children in care in Ireland and 3,035 young adults in after-care services. We are not always visible, our voices are not often heard, and we tend to be overlooked in public policy discussions that directly affect our lives.
This year the EPIC community celebrated its seventh annual Care Day. Care Day is a moment to celebrate the achievements and contributions care-experienced children, young people and adults make to our communities and society every day. But it is more than that. It is also about promoting positive care identities and increasing understanding of the unique challenges we can face.
A day that celebrates the positive
The idea for Care Day came about in 2016 during a weekend camping trip in Scotland for young care leavers from across Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales. While discussing care experiences, the young people who attended agreed that amongst the public there is little knowledge of the care system. This leads to negative stereotyping and misunderstanding about children in care. The group discussed how this contributes to shared experiences of stigma or shame about their circumstances; how uncomfortable it can be disclosing that you are in care, how some children never even tell their best friends, leading to even greater isolation and marginalisation.
That weekend, care experienced young people including members of the EPIC Youth Council imagined a day that would focus on positive visibility, even if your care experience wasn’t always positive. Another crucial point of Care Day for us was to create a sense of community. A way to help children and young people support each other and be proud of who they are - because there is so much more to us, our identities, and our stories than you might think.
Since then, Care Day has become globally recognised with Holland, Finland, New Zealand, Australia, Spain, Croatia, Sweden, Greece, Turkey, Moldova, Bulgaria and Italy joining the celebrations. It has even caught the attention of African nations too which is so great to see.
‘It takes a village to raise a child’
‘It takes a village’ is an African proverb many of us are now familiar with. It acknowledges how important the people in our village are in supporting us and shaping our values, morals, and identities.
So, this year we wanted to extend the Care Day celebration to include all the people who have been, or continue to be, a positive influence in our lives, and to highlight how important these relationships are throughout our care journeys.
For children in care and care-leavers, the village that raises us can look quite different to that of our peers. Our villages include many people that our friends would not come across, such as foster parents and siblings, social workers, Guardians ad Litem (GALs) or independent advocates from EPIC to name a few. We also have the usual suspects in our village though, like youth workers, friends, teachers, or sports coaches. The aspect that all communities share is the need for every village to have people who see and accept you for who you are, who listen to and hear you, and who encourage you and inspire you. This is what we want for every child in the care system.
A care aware future?
The EPIC Youth Council is encouraging people to realise their potential to be that important person or positive influence in the life of a child or young person in care and to become more Care Aware. For Care Day 22 we asked people to join us in the celebration of our achievements, but also in promoting positive care identities. Our challenge to you is to learn more about care-experienced children and young people and help us make Care Day the flagship that ignites national conversations, with us at the table.
We don’t want to live in silence or on the side-lines. We are here, we exist. We are in your schools, places of employment, universities, and sports clubs. We even take buses and trains! So, get to know us, talk to us, because we are epic.