Care Leavers’ Network aims to improve outcomes for those exiting the state care system, working in areas such as advocacy, training, and mentoring, as well as facilitating the connection of care leavers in Ireland to provide individual supports.
Every year in Ireland almost 500 young people exit state care to become care leavers. Due to a range of risks and traumas experienced in their birth home, they first entered the state care system as children. The challenges faced by this demographic are staggering: care leavers represent approximately 20% of young homeless people, 24% of the adult prison population, and 70% of sex workers. Most of us who have not been in the care system do not fully leave home at 18 - our families support us through the highs and lows of adult life. Many of the 20,000 care leavers in Ireland, however, have no family or strong support network to whom they can turn.
First taken into foster care at the age of three, Wayne Dignam has a deep understanding of the challenges faced by care leavers. Wayne spent years in different homes and was then placed in long term foster care aged ten. From there, Wayne flourished with the support of a loving family. In 2014 he set up the Care Leavers’ Network in order to unite the care leaving community, better their quality of life, improve the current care system, and give voice to those afraid to speak out. As Ireland’s only network of care leavers, they are a user-led organisation that provides training, support, and mentoring. They work with young people to support the transition from care to care leaver, facilitate the connection of care leavers, and advocate at a policy level.
The Care Leavers’ Network has over 900 members already participating in their activities. They have assisted care leavers to access their personal records, led policy-influencing research, and developed a mentoring and training programme for care leavers and those responsible for their welfare. These unique programmes will provide tools and support to care leavers, while allowing care professionals to hear the perspective of those they care for. Driven by an individual who personally understands the value of a strong support network, Care Leavers’ Network is already improving the lives of hundreds of the most vulnerable children and young people in Irish society.