R O B B I E G I L L I G A N
My path to social work had an unlikely beginning in a Latin class. In a rare moment of diversion, our teacher invited us to visit a local inner city youth club which was supported by former and current students from the school. I went along, liked what I found and became very involved in weekly activities and summer camps. During one of those camps, I recall clearly a moment when I said to myself ‘this is what I want to do’. I signed up for a social work degree at Trinity College Dublin – and have never regretted the decision.
I chose the Kennedy report because …
… it[i] was my first real exposure to the policy issues surrounding children in state care, an issue that later proved to be the dominant thread in my social work career, as a practitioner, educator and researcher. I still remember as a young university student in Ireland attending a public meeting pushing for its implementation in the early 1970s. Visits during my social work course to a reformatory and an industrial school further convinced me of the need for major reform of these archaic and oppressive systems. On graduation, I started work as a social worker. This brought me into contact with actual children in care, with more of the institutions that were the focus of Kennedy, and with fostering. And it also brought me into the court room of the formidable Judge Eileen Kennedy who had chaired the committee, and who in her day job presided over the Dublin Metropolitan Children’s Court.
Over forty years later, the system for children in care in Ireland has been transformed. Social workers like me were hired in the 1970s to provide a new child care social work service – part of the policy response to Kennedy. These social workers were inspired by their own professional instincts and training to find new foster families as an alternative to placement in institutions. They also helped establish foster care practice on a proper professional footing. Unimaginable back in the 1970s, Ireland now has one of the highest rates of family placement for children in care globally[ii]. The Kennedy report reminds me of the key part played by social workers in the deinstitutionalisation of children’s services in Ireland, and of my own very small share in that same process, as a social worker and foster carer.
[i] Committee on Reformatory and Industrial Schools Systems (Kennedy, E., Chair) (1970). Report. Dublin: Stationery Office.
[ii] Thoburn, J. (2010) International Perspectives on Foster Care in, editor(s)Elizabeth Fernandez and Richard P. Barth, How Does Foster Care Work? International Evidence on Outcomes, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, pp. 29-43.