Monday 21 January 2019

‘I got the feeling I wouldn’t be their problem for much longer’

Principal tackles Tusla over pupil left to fend for herself, write Katherine Donnelly and Ralph Riegel

‘I kept getting passed on. They weren’t doing anything to help me. All they kept asking was how did I feel?’ Stock Image
‘I kept getting passed on. They weren’t doing anything to help me. All they kept asking was how did I feel?’ Stock Image

Katherine Donnelly and Ralph Riegel

A Leaving Cert student who has moved out of home because of ongoing family problems says the State has left her to fend for herself.

On top of the normal pre-exam stresses, the 18-year-old has had to cope with the prospect of having nowhere suitable to live and no money.

"I feel really badly let down. All I want are the things that the Government is always advertising about - an education, a job and a career.

"I'm working really hard on all my seven subjects and I'm getting great support here in the school from my teachers," the girl, Louise (not her real name), told the Irish Independent.

The diligent pupil has been taken in by the parents of a classmate to ensure she gets through to the June exams in a stable environment.

Her school principal and guidance counsellor are outraged at her treatment at the hands of officialdom, including being told to drop her ambition to attend third-level education.

The principal has written to the child and family agency Tusla to complain and says the State's response to Louise puts her at risk of becoming homeless.

Louise turned 18 in February, when she moved outside the remit of Tusla, but her case raises questions about gaps in provision for vulnerable young adults still in second-level education.

Her family has a problematic history and has come to the attention of Tusla for issues that caused her to leave home.

She moved out around Christmas, when she was 17: "I rang Childline and looked for help. They eventually passed me on to someone else. I kept getting passed on. They weren't doing anything to help me. All they kept asking was how did I feel?"

Eventually, Louise ended up dealing with Tusla: "I got the feeling I wasn't going to be their problem for much longer - I'd be someone else's problem soon.

"I met with a social worker and she told me I had options. I was also told there would be funds available to help me with my education.

"But I didn't realise my social worker was only temporary and part-time. When she left and I was given someone else, they told me a totally different story. They said she was wrong.

"They told me I had to be realistic - the life you get is the life you get, not the life you hope for. I was told not to be too hopeful and that third level education was really not very realistic for me."

It appalled the principal. "We deal in hope - every student is taught hope is what you cling to. What she was told that day was bang out of order," he said

The best accommodation offer social services made to her was a bed in emergency accommodation in Cork City which would involve a daily three-hour round trip, involving four bus journeys, to school.

"They (social services) said going home was the best option for me. But I wasn't going to do that.

"I don't blame the individual social workers - I blame the system," she said.

Louise has received no financial support and the family with whom she is living have received a single €100 supermarket voucher toward her food costs.

In his letter to Tusla, the principal has sought clarification on what services/supports are in place, if any, for 18 to 23-year-olds. He also asks what Tusla offers families such as the one which Louise is from, and raises questions about whether it is acceptable for young people to move in with other families without due supervision or checks.

He outlines his concerns about the impact of the current situation on Louise and the danger of her possibly ending up homeless when a small intervention now could dramatically change her life for the better.

Tusla, the State agency responsible for improving wellbeing and outcomes for children up to the age of 18, works with children and their families, and young adults who have been in care.

In a statement to the Irish Independent, Tusla said it did "not have a statutory remit to work with people over the age of 18 who have not been in care".

While Tusla did not comment on the detail of this case, Louise has never been in care. The statement added: "But where such cases come to our attention we work proactively and collaboratively with other organisations and professionals to support vulnerable young adults."

Irish Independent

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