An Irish teenager who was placed in residential care at age 11 has said the experience left him feeling insecure and unsettled when the world had already crumbled beneath him.
Sean (16) opened up about his two years spent in a residential home and he said the nature of the set-up did not afford him a sense of security or a nurturing environment.
Speaking to the Ryan Tubridy Show Sean said: “Residential homes are run by staff instead of foster parents. I was in that for two years.
“I was just turning 11 and I was just becoming a teenager. I was taken away from my family and put into this situation where I didn’t know anyone.
“Because it was staff and not foster parents I didn’t know how to form a bond with them. I wasn’t used to such authority. It left me feeling vulnerable. I lacked the sense of security I would have had if I was with a family,” he said.
The teenager revealed that he felt he had lost his family forever because he did not know when he would see his parents again but masked his feelings as a way to protect himself.
“When you come into foster care you automatically put on a mask. You feel like you can hide your problem, you feel you want to show people that you’re stronger than you are. As a kid I had this sense that I had to show people that I could get through it and get out the end of it and be okay.
“When I was first moved to residential care I wasn’t told when I was going to see my parents again. Lucky enough I met them on the first week, but being taken away from them was hard. We didn’t have smartphones and internet all the time. I had very little communication with them at the time and I felt like I’d lost my family forever.
“I felt like I had lost everything that made me, me.
“It left me with a lot of stress and problems and insecurities. In residential care it was very hard to grasp any level of security and that unsettled me.
“All these insecurities would run through my head at night and keep me up. It made me withdraw into myself and block out everyone else,” Sean said.
The secondary school student said that he struggled with the business-like nature of residential care, and the feeling that every movement was being monitored and watched.
“In residential care they document your life.
“It’s almost like Big Brother. You’re being watched. They would write in a book every day. You always had it in your head that when they were in the office they were writing in that book,” Sean said.
Sean revealed that although he felt the staff of his residential home cared about his wellbeing, it was hard to form important, loving relationships to replicate those with a parent.
“I felt a difference with the staff. I always felt like they cared about my problems but they were leaving at 2 o’clock at the end of the day.
“Being in a family, you all look out for each other and care about each other’s problems,” he said.
After two years spent in residential care, Sean began the process of transitioning into a family home The teen revealed that he has been hugely fortunate in that his foster parents have always treated him “like a son”.
“My foster parents treated me like their son. Four years ago I began the transition from residential care. I began in January, where I would stay a day with my foster parents and then perhaps a night. It took a long time. Moving there was a big boost in confidence for me. Leaving home as an eleven year old child, and re-entering a home at 13, that is a period where you are developing at such a rapid rate.
“You forget what living with a family was like. I wasn’t even living with them yet fully when they brought me on holiday with them for almost a week. Entering into it, I was immediately but into this nurturing family environment and it boosted my confidence,” he said.
“That was the transition from tolerance to love,” he said.
The teenager will take the Leaving Certificate next year, and said he hopes to marry his love of the media with his ambitions to study social care.
“In ten years time I want to develop what I’m doing now into a media career and I also want to do social studies. I just want to help other kids. That has been my goal and that’s what I‘ve realised.
“I didn’t have somebody there for me when I was in residential. I don’t want any child to go through the same experiences not knowing how to handle these things and not knowing about these places. I want it to be at such a level where foster care is spoken about in schools.”
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