Spotlight on Cliodhna, Child, Youth and Family Outreach Worker

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Spotlight on Cliodhna, Child, Youth and Family Outreach Worker

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For the over 300 children in COPE Galway’s Homeless Service, the impact of being without a family home is significant.

Despite their very best efforts, families experience difficulties meeting their children’s biopsychosocial and development needs while living in emergency accommodation.

To answer this need, we applied for, and were fortunate to receive, a grant from the 2020 RTÉ Toy Show Appeal to employ a new Child, Youth and Family Outreach Worker to carry out individualised pieces of child-centred work. This role has significantly increased our capacity to directly support and advocate for homeless children.

Here, Cliodhna Donohue tells us about the impact of the work she does.

“Families often enter our homeless service with traumas and challenges in their lives, including family breakdown, single parenting, domestic abuse, bereavement and disability. They may also have to relocate for emergency accommodation having previously lived outside of Galway City, which can uproot a family’s life. Children may have to change schools and no longer be in the vicinity of family members or friends. This can have an unsettling effect, impacting their education, socialisation and general wellbeing.

“I meet and listen to these families to create child-centred support plans. I support them to enrol their children in schools or crèches; organise school transport and identify essential items such as food and clothes they may need.”

I focus on ensuring that they are as comfortable as possible in their B&B accommodation and that they have essentials, such as kettles and microwaves; homework spaces; access to laundry and food preparation facilities and vouchers for shopping or activities for their children that they could not otherwise afford. I also run a weekly homework club in one of the emergency accommodation locations. Volunteers teach computer skills here and the children have an opportunity to socialise with one another. One of the children said she looks forward to the homework club every week as it is so much fun. The club also allows parents some much-needed time to themselves. I have also set up an IT skills class for parents at the same time, so that childcare is not a barrier to parents’ own education.

“Part of my role is to try to make B&B environments more family friendly. I hang noticeboards with information on resource centres, parent and toddler groups, healthy eating recipes and children’s activities and I put up rails for families to select from for any clothing needs.”

I serve as a vital connection for families to voluntary and statutory family support and youth services in Galway such as Tusla; HSE; No 4. Youth Service; Music Generation Galway; Family Resource Centres and Foróige. Establishing support is essential to reintegration into the community and the prevention of future homelessness. It is really important that children experiencing homelessness receive the same opportunities as their peers, that they are not marked out as being different and that they can play, learn and enjoy their childhood. Recently, I organised summer camps – essential respite for the children in our services.One mother’s comment to me sums up my role and why it is so necessary:

‘It is fantastic to know that support for my kids is available while I am homeless’.

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