New book outlines the lived experiences of those in foster care. Stephen Holland reports
The experiences of children in foster care in Sligo and Leitrim are showcased in a new book which allows them to tell their story in their own words.
My Own Jungle is a book commissioned by Sligo Leitrim Home Youth Liaison Service and published by Sligo based arts organisation Kids’ Own.
The book, which was a collaborative effort between writer Mary Branley, artist Sharon Kelly, and children in care, was launched last Wednesday at The Model Sligo by Mayor of Sligo Arthur Gibbons.
Interweaving children’s personal stories with artwork, this book was developed through a series of workshops, led by social worker Ann McCauley for a national first in terms of profiling the lived experiences of those in foster care through their own self-expression.
With participants using pseudonyms and staying anonymous the children were able to share their stories honestly in a book that attempts to provide the full spectrum of what it’s like to be in the foster care system.
One participant named Chloe says that once you move out of a foster home that you like it takes a while to get over it.
“I’ve moved family twice. One I love, but one I didn’t. Now, I like this family, they are nice to me. I feel part of the family,” she said.
“My last home, they were a bit mean and I wanted to leave. Now all my sisters are together in the same family, so that’s good.”
Another going by the name of Raindrop described social workers as ‘an old lady or man between 40 and up’.
“They take you out every so often and drive you demented by asking questions every time. They ask, ‘how are you’ in this sweet, weird voice,” they said.
Maknea outlines the difficulties of explaining to people why they don’t call their foster parents mum or dad and that this can cause a lot of difficulties mentally.
While a child who wished to be called Speedy Salmon stated: “My hopes for the future, maybe I could go home someday.”
This book was the brainchild of Kate McGoldrick from the Home Youth Liaison Service who helped ensure the project came to fruition and was funded by the TUSLA Children’s Participation Seed Fund.
Kate says the project is so valuable because it gave them the opportunity to listen to children in care and allow them to convey how they experience the services.
“We all react to situations that life throws at us differently, and the experiences of those in foster care are no different,” she said.
“The aim of this project was to document how children feel about their experience in foster care, help them get their voices heard, explain what fostering is, and the main goal was to allow children to tell their story in their own words.
“The stories in this book are told with great passion and power and hopefully these stories will also give other young people some understanding of foster care.”
The project was awarded TUSLA’s Investing in Children award for the imaginative and inclusive way it opened and encouraged dialogue with those in the care system.
Area Manager for the Child and Family Agency in Sligo, Leitrim and West Cavan Liam White stated it is incredible to read the down to earth content and lived experiences of those in care. He highlighted that while the book can be critical of some of the services that are provided this can act as a learning opportunity in itself for TUSLA and to take on board the concerns of children.
“I think as an organisation TUSLA has to listen and learn from the voices of these young people, this gives children a space and a voice, and it is very successful in achieving that,” he said.
Creative Director with Kids Own publishing Jo Holmwood spoke about how for the last 25 years their publishing company has sought to highlight the voices of young people that so often go unheard.
“This is a significant project because it’s the first time we have published a book specifically made by children and young people in a foster care setting,” she said.
“The stories in the book are so important because it’s such a unique resource to share those very important and unique experiences of young people.”
The book was launched by Mayor Arthur Gibbons along with the participating children who he said deserve huge credit for the work they put in to create this piece of work.
“One thing I will say looking at this book, I wouldn’t just recommend this for foster care, I’d recommend it for all households, it speaks to every child out there and I think that’s what this book is all about,” he said.
My Own Jungle: Experiences of children in care in Sligo and Leitrim is available from Kids’ Own’s website www.kidsown.ie/books