OCO and Me
“It is life-changing for a young person when they realise they have the right to be heard and they are genuinely being listened to.
“I arrived to Ireland when I was 14 years old as a separated child and was taken into care by the HSE. My involvement with the Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO) began shortly after when I was part of a youth advisory panel with a number of other young people from different backgrounds.
“The group was involved in discussions about children’s rights in a United Nations meeting in 2006. What attracted me to OCO that I found unique was they wanted to include young people in everything they were doing.
“Following that experience, I got involved as a project liaison officer to assess the lives and care of the most vulnerable young people in the Separated Children Living in Ireland project in 2009.
“There was a wide range of different ways they had come to be Ireland without a parent or guardian over 18, including being trafficked and being brought in for forced labour.
“Most were living in private hostels, which were run by managers or security, and did not have 24-hour childcare.
“They did not have the protection children would normally have when with a parent and a lot of them had disappeared.
“The project humanised the statistics of the disappeared and shed light on the issue. Many of the young people were very scared and had issues with authority when I first met them.
“As a person from an ethnic background and not from Ireland, you can feel you do not have rights. It is a crippling thought.Week by week, I worked hard to build up their trust and reassure them about what the OCO did.
“The intensive part of the project lasted through the summer.
“I felt the biggest achievement of the project was to get the young people to feel comfortable enough to share their stories, which got people to sit up and understand the vulnerable situation they were living in.
“Not long after the publication, the policy of children living in hostels was changed. They were accommodated into mainstream care like Irish children.
“After the project I became involved with other foundations such as one that created a scholarship to support young people in college who could not otherwise afford to go.
“I have always wanted to help people and my experience with the OCO gave me the confidence and focus on how to do it and pursue my goal of a career in diplomacy in the future.”
In conversation with Rachel Flaherty