'The best place for a child is in their own home'
If the referendum is passed, it is proposed to introduce legislation to amend the Adoption Act 2010. Parents “will have to have failed in their duty towards the child for three years” before the High Court can authorise the adoption of a child in foster care, according to the official referendum information.
“A child is only a child for 18 years, not even that,” O’Gorman says. “After three years of continuous care, their childhood is slipping by. In my opinion, after three years of continuous care, the child is living in limbo. If they don’t go home permanently after a reasonable amount of time – a year, two years – the longer a child spends in short-term care, the more likely it is they will end up in long-term care.”
O’Gorman says children in foster care do not have a voice.
Over the 18 years she has been fostering, she has seen a pattern. “There is a need to stop the cycle of care. Sometimes, the reason that children are in care is that their parents grew up in care. Their idea of how a family operates is skewed by their experience at home when it comes to them rearing their own family. We have to do something to stop this perpetuating.
“We need to give every child an equal chance, regardless of their birth circumstances.”
How do the families say goodbye to their foster children?
“You have to trust the social workers when the child is going home that all the supports are in place at home. Once I know that and I’m reassured that this is the best plan for the child, I have to support that plan . . .
“And then you bawl your eyes out when they’re gone. That’s the hardest thing: because to respect the family’s privacy, you don’t have any ongoing contact with them.”
O’Gorman has been lobbying for years for the referendum. “Our Constitution doesn’t protect children adequately,” she says. “It enshrines the family and, sometimes, in very rare situations, the family is not the safest place for some children.
“I’ll be voting Yes because if it is only one child who is saved and protected, it’s worth changing the Constitution. That’s why I foster; to keep children safe. Even if it’s only for one night, I can protect a child and keep them safe for that night.”