'Why should the people you don't live with have a say in your lives?'
“Eileen” is 28 and lives in Co Limerick. When The Irish Times first spoke to her last week, she wanted to go on the record with her story of being fostered. She reluctantly changed her mind because her younger sister, who was fostered with her, feared being identified and stigmatised as a result. This is their story.
“There were three of us. My brother was six, I was two and my sister was six months. Our parents were married. They weren’t bad people, but they just couldn’t cope. My mother had a nervous breakdown and my father was drinking. Then he went to England and didn’t come back.
“We were all malnourished. When we got into the social worker’s car to be taken away, there was an orange on the dashboard of the car. My brother ate it, peel and all. That’s how hungry he was.
“My brother went to an aunt. My sister and I went into foster care for three months.
“There was one son in the foster family we went to. When we went there first, we hadn’t been fed for a while.
“They had to put all the food out of our reach because we just ate everything we saw, all the time, and then we puked. We puked so much they had to take the carpets up.
“We were there for three months and then we were sent back to our biological mother; just me and my sister. But she wasn’t ready for us. She wasn’t able to take care of us.
“Mam had been given two boys to foster since we had been gone. But she kept ringing up the social worker, wondering how we were getting on. The social worker said everything was fine, but she kept ringing. We got malnourished again. My biological mother couldn’t cope. I was two, and I weighed 19 pounds. My sister still has scars today on her bottom and the tops of her legs from where she had nappy rashes because her nappy was never changed.
“We went back to Mam, and we stayed there. My brother was brought up by our aunt. We had to go for access visits every month to see our biological mother, and we would scream all the time. My sister wouldn’t talk for two days after the visits. And we still had to go every month. We hated it.
“In all, Mam and Dad fostered five children and then adopted them. We were adopted just before our 18th birthdays. It took so long because our parents were married. I kept my biological name until I was nine and then I changed it to our foster family name, mostly because of the stigma. I did not want people to know I was fostered. When you’re a teenager, it’s worse, because you’re so self-conscious.
“I will be voting Yes in the referendum. Why should children not have a say in what happens to them? At 12 or 13 these days, people are definitely old enough to decide. I was 14 when I knew I wanted to be adopted. Why should the people you don’t live with have a say in your lives?
“The rights of the children have to be considered. I have listened to what the No campaigners have to say.
“They keep talking about the rights of the parents. But they have to put the rights of the children first. The parents are not the ones that are being moved from house to house, and from pillar to post.”