Shane Griffin spent his childhood moving around at least 19 residential units foster care.
He went from home to home and experienced sexual abuse along the way.
He was so desperate for help - he wrote this moving letter to a judge in his case.
Now he has grown up, he tells the Irish Times that he has dedicated his life to piecing together his early life and wants to help others who grow up in state care.
We had the opportunity to interview him on his childhood and how he feels lessons should be learnt from his experiences:
Q: There’s no excuse for the abuse you suffered at the hands of all the different people – those who actively participated in that abuse and those that knew and didn’t intervene. You’re a rare soul – one who is resilient, passionate and inherently good – and I’m so glad that children in care now can see you fighting for them, and that they have an idol to aspire to. How does it feel to finally have it out in the open?
Relieved. It is a huge burden lifted off my shoulders. This burden was filled with shame and secrecy that was never mine. I am also deeply moved and humbled by the outpouring of support, shared anger and frustration, acknowledgement and desire for change, reform and lessons learned from my story - my story which is only one of many. I’ve often walked through my hometown of Newbridge, feeling ashamed, asking myself do they know and what exactly do they know about my past. It can become very overwhelming and you avoid, you isolate yourself and hide. Again, these were never my secrets.
Q: You’ve been remarkably brave – what made you decide that dealing with the consequences of exposing your truth was preferable to playing it safe?
The greater good - it is now in the interest of children today, at home and in state care, that learning ca be taken from my story and that of others. Not only that but people must have known I would one day speak out. Even as a vulnerable child, I spoke and wrote out. I sought help, safety and justice from responsible and informed adults. All too often children, just like I once was, are not heard and, when they are heard they are not listened to. I slipped through the crack where my "best interests" were deemed by responsible adults but actually subjected me to further abuse and suffering. They left wounds and today I still carry these scars, but I also helped heal those scars to reduce the effect they could have on my life.
Q: One thing that struck me and shattered my heart was that you felt because you were shifted between nineteen placements, that YOU were the problem. It makes sense that you would think that because it may have seemed as though you were the common denominator…but how has that impacted on your self-esteem?
Confidence. I have a great lack of confidence and self-belief. Don't get me wrong - I have achieved so much in my life, and I’m grateful for this. Take my graduation day, for example, I should have been ecstatic, but something inside me didn't want to fully accept my achievement. We are products of our environment - our environment and experiences can have a profound impact on our lives. Okay, I've had many placements, but is this why and how I could speak off-the-cuff to anyone, anywhere? It’s about turning those negatives into positives and shelving the rest, that is a big piece of work, a skill set in itself, and of course very much a work in progress. Now my inner child was relieved of a great burden. “As a child, a large boulder was placed upon my shoulders. Thankfully today, I can say this boulder has become a pebble…but it is still one that I will carry forever”.
Q: What would you say to any child reading this who thinks they are a problem?
You are not! Children cannot and should not take on the responsibilities of adults. Adults have many responsibilities to care for children. As a child, I reached out so much and I spoke to adults who were kind to me and really helped me, I now know of the various supports for Children, fantastic supports. As a child, you have a right to be heard and listened to.
Q: All through hearing your story, I just visualise an innocent child who kept crying out to adults for help time after time after time and no-one listened. That was the 90s…has this changed?
Yes and No. Look, we have come a long way, don't get me wrong, and we have done so much to hear the voice of the child and we continue to do so. This is fantastic and we have strengthened our constitutional commitments to hearing that precious voice, the voice of every child. However, still children are slipping through the net. Children in care or private arrangements don't always have a social worker and, when they do, their social workers don't always have contact time. Big problem! How can we hear that voice? With an absence of time, how can we build these key relationships with vulnerable children? We have also made a strong commitment to hear and listen to the voice of the child in matters that affect their lives, in the absence of a Guardian Ad Litem? A trained professional, whose task it is to hear that voice and articulate it in legal discourse. Vital! We still today see deplorable outcomes like in the 1990s. Considering we have come so far, questions must be asked and answers must be questioned.
Q: What can readers do to help?
Become Informed. Child protection and welfare is society's job, responsibility and moral obligation to the future of our nation. Get involved, help out a struggling neighbour, provide peer-support to a struggling parent you meet at school, be kind. This could happen to anyone, we just don't know. Ireland has a deplorable track record in terms of child protection. Let’s be the generation that breaks the cycle, not the kids. Let’s all chip in and do our piece. I think articles like this provide readers with first-hand insight and they may be moved, angered or annoyed but it is about turning that energy into action, demand accountability and scrutinise politicians – DO this to break our historic cycle. Let’s all, unilaterally commit to cherishing all our children, and truly treating all our children equally.
This is part 1 of a 3 part series on Foster Care in Ireland.
Shane is the client manager at Sugru which offers long-term affordable psychological support to children, adolescents and adults without a waiting list.Tel: 09064-99144
He also lends his support to (http://www.careleaversnetwork.com/cln/), a Social Care Worker working in Family Support.
Childline Teen text service by texting the word 'talk' to 50101. This service is available from 10 am to 4 am every day. Or you can ring 24/7 for free on 1800 66 66 66 (www.childline.ie)
Ombudsman for Children: Complaints contact – Free-phone 1800 20 20 40