Revealed: One woman’s bullying and intimidation at the hands of people paid to care for her
'I’ll never forget their beady eyes staring at me like that'
A young mother of three has spoken out about the “bullying and intimidation” she received at the hands of people paid to care for her while living in a children’s residential care facility.
Sarah* (not her real name) tells independent.ie that the social workers at her facility used “mind games” and at times outright aggression when looking after young people in their care.
“One day I went to talk to the manager and duty care manager [about not being allowed to watch TV]. They were both dismissive and made excuses.”
“I tried to leave to go downstairs but the manager grabbed my two forearms, looked intently in my eyes and shook me. I’ll never forget their beady eyes staring at me like that,” she said.
When Sarah finally managed to pull away, she said she tried to make a complaint in the care home and the only person available to take it was the duty manager who had been present at the time of the incident.
“I presumed they wouldn't lie about what happened or at worst they would say I got aggressive and they had to restrain me, but no, they actually denied it down to the ground,” she said.
Sarah, now aged in her 20s, said she was admitted to the Dublin facility under ‘voluntary care’ seven years ago - when she was 15.
The already strained relationship with her own mother further deteriorated when Sarah discovered she was pregnant.
Under section 4 of the Child Care Act, 1991, the Child and Family Agency may take a child into voluntary care with the consent of the parents where the child’s care and protection requires it.
Independent.ie has also listened to a tape of a secretly recorded meeting of the social workers in the facility in which her complaints and distress seem to be dismissed.
Sarah, who has successfully achieved a diploma and currently works part-time, has decided to speak about her experience with these social workers to highlight the inadequacies in the care she received.
Sarah also wants to dispel the “stigma attached to people who have been in care”.
“Some people think we are damaged, aggressive or you just get that pity look. I don’t want a pity look, I’m happy, I’ve got on with things, I want to be treated the same as every other woman or mother. Everyone has different circumstances growing up,” she said.
She maintains that her anger and frustration at her treatment at the residential care facility have almost passed but she still feels “sadness for those children that are still not being listened to”.
A regular complaint that was “not taken seriously” was when Sarah complained that the social workers were smoking in the doorway of the house around her child when there was an allocated area for smoking.
In the tape recording, members of staff can be heard discussing this particular complaint with mild derision ending in the statement: “She will not be making any decisions about our smoking policy”.
Things steadily got worse from there, according to Sarah – “intimidation, constant criticism, stares and just plain bullying from grown adults”.
Sarah said she began receiving thinly veiled threats that she would not be able to leave the facility with her child – and said several exaggerated negative reports were logged in the staff book about her relationship with the child on a daily basis.
She said that even when new care workers would come in and see what was going on, they were too afraid to say anything. But Sarah tells independent.ie that there were “one or two care workers who were lovely and very honest with me”.
“They told me out straight that they could see how I was being treated. I would live for the days when one of the friendly care workers would be on just to be treated like a normal person. But I was still miserable,” she said.
After one particularly bad day, Sarah said that she took to self-harming “because of the mental stress they were putting me under”.
Realising that she needed to resort to “drastic measures”, Sarah took the recording of the meeting to IAYPIC (Irish Association for Young People in Care) now EPIC (Empowering Young People in Care in Ireland).
“I was nervous they would be like the care workers and wouldn't really be on my side but in fairness they were actually a great support and outlet for me,” she told independent.ie.
Sarah was released from the facility and given assistance in locating an apartment for herself and her child within weeks of this meeting.
Response from Tusla
Under section 31 of the Child Care Act, it is an offence to publish or broadcast any matter likely to lead members of the public to identify a child who is, or has been, the subject of care proceedings. For this reason, Tusla – Child and Family Agency does not comment on individual cases and does not give out the address of its residential centres.
(*Real name has been changed for legal reasons)