Leanne O’Connor – In care from age nine to 18
‘I must keep my child on register or lose support’
Having left care when she was 18, Leanne O’Connor was considered a care leaver until she was 21, by which time she had three children, now aged five, four and two.
When she became pregnant at 17, Leanne expected her social worker to ask how she would cope with the baby and offer her advice and support. The social worker didn’t.
It wasn’t until she was six months pregnant that social services became more involved. The unborn child was put on the child protection register when Leanne was eight months pregnant as a result of her history of self-harming and misusing alcohol and drugs.
However, Leanne says she stopped both the moment she knew she was pregnant. “I can understand why social services were involved when my first daughter was born because they had to be cautious,” she says. “But they based their decisions on what happened years ago.”
Her daughter stayed on the register until she was two. By then, Leanne also had a son, who was not put on the child protection register. “I felt good because I could look after him properly without social services breathing down my neck,” Leanne recalls.
After the birth of her son, Leanne became pregnant again but her third child was born premature and died when she was just three hours old. This led to Leanne having a breakdown and her relationship with her partner began to deteriorate. The relationship ended after the birth of her youngest child, another daughter, who has cerebral palsy.
Leanne’s former partner now cares for their eldest children, while Leanne cares for their youngest daughter, with support from social services – which she welcomes. However, she is unhappy that her daughter is also on the child protection register. “They say I have to keep her on the register or I can’t get the support and that annoys me.”
Leanne receives advocacy support from the charity Voice and attends meetings with social workers with her advocate present. But this has not always been welcomed. “I’ve had a social worker say to me ‘I see you’ve brought your muscle’,” she says.
While understanding social workers’ need to protect children, Leanne objects to assumptions being made because she was in care. She believes that providing young care leaver parents with access to a mentor who is a parent and has been in care themselves would help.