A free legal advice clinic for children and young people in the care system will commence today (Tuesday 26 January).
The clinic is a collaborative initiative between registered charity Empowering People In Care (EPIC) and independent legal advice centre Community Law & Mediation.
It seeks to empower children and young people in care, or leaving care, to vindicate their legal rights in relation to their health, housing, education and other entitlements.
COVID-19 has presented significant challenges for children and young people in care, with impact on family access arrangements, education, mental health and accommodation options for young people leaving care.
The free legal advice clinics are funded by the Community Foundation for Ireland and RTÉ Does Comic Relief and will run on a monthly basis for an initial period of 12 months.
Further information on the clinics and how to access them can be found by contacting EPIC on 01 872 7661.
Community Law and Mediation chief executive Rose Wall said: “We are delighted to partner with EPIC to provide these new and much-needed legal advice clinics. Children and young people in the care system are some of the most disadvantaged in Ireland and they have faced significant challenges in recent months due to COVID-19.
“The legal expertise of our solicitors, combined with the advocacy expertise provided by EPIC, will help ensure that they have every opportunity to have their voice heard in relation to decisions that affect them.
Marissa Ryan, chief executive of EPIC, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has been extremely difficult for children and young people across Ireland, and particularly those in care or leaving care.
“As services across Ireland stall and are overwhelmed as a result of the coronavirus, EPIC and CLM are determined to provide a service to ensure care-experienced children and young people have access to justice, know their rights and have these rights upheld.”
Denise Charlton of CFI said the voices of children and young people must be heard, even in a pandemic.
“They must not be brushed aside, ignored or silenced when important decisions are being taken about their lives which could impact future health, wellbeing and opportunities.”
CLM supports more than 3,000 people annually through its range of services, which include free legal advice and representation, information and education, and mediation and conflict coaching. It operates two community law centres, CLM Northside (Dublin) and CLM Limerick, and partners with other organisations to provide outreach advice clinics around Ireland
EPIC is a national voluntary organisation working with and for children and young adults who are currently in care or who have experience of being in care. This includes those in residential care, foster care, relative care, hostel, high support and special care units or facilities.
EPIC also works with children and young adults preparing to leave care and those in aftercare.