'We went to the State for help. We were crying out for help, but it never arrived'
IT’S DEVLIN Kavanagh’s Confirmation day, and he’s posing for a photograph in his school uniform. He’s just 13 years old. With his hand in his pockets, he looks a little stilted, the way people tend to in such photographs. His mother, Orla, and stepdad, Mark, are on either side of him, beaming proudly.
Just over a year and a half later, Devlin Kavanagh was dead. At 14, he had taken his own life.
His life had unravelled in the space of a chaotic few months. He was diagnosed with a learning disability and dropped out of school. Unable to find a new school, he started mixing with older kids who were known to gardaí, and experimenting with drugs and alcohol.
Within months, he was seen as just another troublemaker in the village of Castledermot, Co Kildare. As his life grew increasingly chaotic, he was eventually admitted into the care of the Health Service Executive.
After spending a few months at Ballydowd – a secure facility for troubled teens – he was quickly back in a rough-and-tumble world, with little structure or support.
His story is complex and there aren’t easy answers. Social services did respond. But his parents feel their son was failed by the system when he needed it most. “Lots of teenagers go through rough patches,” says Orla Kavanagh.
“We went to the State looking for help, but we feel his case was never taken seriously. There was no real interest or accountability. We feel we’d have been better off if we went looking for help privately, which we were advised against at the start . . . Now, all we’re left with are these unanswered questions.”
DEVLIN’S MOTHER remembers him as a bright, happy child. She was in her mid-20s when he was born. As a single mother, she reared him at home until he was three and, later, with the support of her family.
“He was great fun and loved the outdoors. He loved people and was well-mannered. He had some difficulties with reading and received learning support, but he never had any behaviour problems,” Orla recalls.
His first problems began the following year, during the summer of 2005. Devlin was 13 and about to enter secondary school.
“He was very tall for his age. Six foot, two inches,” his mother recalls. “He looked older than he was, but in reality he was very vulnerable. He was a child. He was easily led and just didn’t see badness in anyone.”
He drifted away from friends his own age – who, along with Devlin, were due to attend Knockbeg College, a boarding school on the Carlow/Laois border – and fell in with a group of older boys who were involved in using drugs and in anti-social behaviour.