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Northern Ireland's children in care need an identity

By Steven Agnew

In any given year there are around 2,800 children and young people in the care of health and social care trusts in Northern Ireland. They reside in a combination of foster care, kinship care, at home with birth family and children's residential units.

Due to reasons beyond their control, these young people often experience multiple house moves and changes in significant care giver, which can contribute to confusion about their identity.

That is why I am pleased to support the Life Story project, which is helping young people to understand their early life experiences with the aim of creating a greater sense of self, positive identity and increased self-esteem.

It is clear from speaking to those involved in the Life Story project that allowing children to learn and talk about their birth family helps them make sense of their identity and to understand their past experiences.

This undoubtedly contributes to enhanced self-esteem and improved self-confidence, which will help them throughout their lives.

The Life Story project has already helped 40 young people under the age of 20, with a further 60 on the waiting list.

Positive feedback from participants further demonstrates the need for an ongoing independent, Life Story service for such children and young people living in Northern Ireland.

Unlike in England and Wales, this is not a statutory service and so, when its Big Lottery funding comes to an end, so will the project.

Much is made about the many billions that are spent on our health service every year and there is a constant cry for more money.

However, I believe that by taking a long-term view, a relatively small amount of money should be diverted into the Life Story project, to make it a statutory requirement.

I can only hope that those running our health service see the benefits and take steps to make the Life Story project statutory for both care-experienced and adopted children and young people in Northern Ireland.

The end result will not only be financial, in terms of reducing the need for interventions as these children grow, but also emotional, allowing them to reach their full potential.

  • Steven Agnew MLA is leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland

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