Vicky’s story in her own words: ‘All I want is to come home and live close to my mum’
A young woman who the Children’s Commissioner has found suffered ‘systemic failings’ in her care since she was ‘a little girl’ and the Western Trust was her legal parent, has provided moving testimony in a new report.
The Western Trust has apologised to ‘Vicky’ after the NI Commissioner for Children and Young People’s ‘Looked After? A Formal Investigation into the Life of a Child in the care of the State’ report found the now 21-year-old was subject to ‘breaches of her rights due to systemic failings in her care’.
Poignantly, the report opens with the young woman’s own words which were penned in December 2022 in a medium secure hospital in England where she continues to be placed.
"I am Vicky [not her real name] and I am 21 years old. I have been in care since I was 10 months old. I went to live with my mum, and brother and sisters when I was a baby.
"When I was little, I used to like playing outside and swimming and now I like to ride my bike when I can. Now I like to watch TV and like all the soaps and Hollyoaks and Emmerdale are my favourites.
"I also like to listen to music and like rap music and country so one minute I like to listen to Eminem and Tupac and then Derek Ryan and Lee Matthews.
"I support Manchester United and my favourite player is Cristiano Ronaldo,” the prologue reads.
Vicky goes on to describe in her own words her experience of the care system throughout her life.
"I have had a lot of social workers and some of them scared me by telling me that I will be taken away from my mum. But I also had some very nice social workers who played with me, took me to the swings and cared about me.
“I think that if my mum was able to speak out for me, like when I was bullied at school, things may have been different. I think my mum should have got the right support to get me through what I was feeling,” she states.
The young woman refers to her current plight and how she remains in Britain, far from her family.
"Nothing is being done for me and I have had enough. I am not getting the support I need, though I came to England to get help and I have not got that. I was told it would be only four years so why am I still here.
“The system hasn’t helped me since I was six years old. Since my mum asked to get me help and I’m still not getting the help,” she laments.
Vicky’s testimony in the report’s prologue concludes: “I am going higher up if nothing comes out of my Care programme Approach [a review of her care] and it won’t be the manager I will be going to it will be my MPs who will listen to me.
“Because I am going to get the right support from now on. I know that you are going to read about my life in this report but all I want is to come home to NI and live as close to my mum as I can because my family is very important to me.”
The Western Trust has said it will take time to consider the report in detail but added that it clearly identifies serious issues of concern and must result in concerted action across all relevant sectors.
Speaking about the report, Tom Cassidy, Director of Women and Children’s Services with the Trust, said: “We would like to say sorry to Vicky and her family for the failings which were identified, this is unacceptable and needs to be addressed.
“Children’s services have developed significantly since 2001. Our multi-disciplinary workforce is now more aware of adverse childhood experiences and the potential impact on child development and attachment. However, this report clearly shows more work is needed.
“It is more important now than ever, that we as a Trust and the entire system in both Health and Social Care and Education sectors highlighted in the report takes on board the issues raised and implements the relevant learning and recommendations going forward. We will work closely with our service Commissioner, the SPPG, and the Department of Health as a priority to do this.
“This is simply not acceptable and we must work harder individually and collectively to make things better for people like Vicky.”
The report found the young woman was subject to ‘breaches of her rights due to systemic failings in her care’ and that there were ‘significant and persistent failings of Vicky’s ‘legal parent’ – i.e. the Health and Social Care Trust – as well as other authorities, which have resulted in Vicky being placed in England for over four years, away from her family and community’.
Following the report’s publication, NICCY said it will formally monitor the implementation of its 45 recommendations, the majority of which aim to prevent the failings experienced by Vicky being repeated by highlighting areas where changes in practice are necessary.
The Children’s Commissioner said Vicky’s continued placement in a medium secure hospital in England is a cause of deep concern for NICCY and distress for Vicky and her family.
The report makes clear recommendations that a plan must be developed as a matter of urgency putting in place appropriate services and support to enable her return home.