Introduce yourself please…
I’m Wayne Dignam, care leaver. I’m from Ireland, and founded the Care Leavers’ Network a networking and support group for care leavers. We advocate for children in care, support children coming out of care, and train professionals in the care system. I was born in 1975 and spent most of my childhood in State Care. I now run a consultancy business that works with companies in many countries.
I have four degrees and three children.
Do you mind telling us the reasons you went into care?
My dad had alcohol problems and my mam had mental health problems. Each got worse, and a combination of both made it impossible to look after me and my two sisters.
How did you feel about going in care?
I didn’t want to go at first. But after short term placements, then returning home, I was eventually relieved to be in my long term foster placement at 10 years’ of age. I stayed there until I was 21, so it was a very good foster placement.
What is your favourite childhood memory?
Wearing a superman costume and running at full speed on the road, imagining that I could take off and fly. Learning in later years that superman was a care leaver was a revelation.
What is your biggest achievement?
Developing a sense of who I am, and being happy with that. Life isn’t necessarily about achievement, although I have strived to achieve a lot. My identity is not about what I have achieved outside of my own identity.
Overall, what has your care experience been like?
Very good. I am so grateful to have lived with my foster family for such a long time. To have lived in a secure home, and to have developed lasting friendships in my community.
Has your past had a positive or negative effect on your future?
Positive in that it has motivated me to be a better person and to help others as a result of what I have learned in my life.
What has driven you?
A sense of justice and a sense of healing from the past. I am guided by a sense of destiny that I create by being true to myself.
Who is your role model?
Probably Wayne Dyer, another care leaver named Wayne. I am inspired by how he has expanded his life in so many ways. He is not a victim of his past any more.
Have you ever felt like giving up?
Not really, thankfully. Sometimes I do feel like I am not worthy of positive things in my life though.
What keeps you going?
My family, my business, my responsibilities, and what I get in return. My passion.
How much have you changed since you left care?
I am over 20 years’ out of care. I am more confident and have done a lot of work on my self-care.
Do you think you were ever judged or labeled for being in care?
I never felt like I was, although I felt people had more respect for me when I opened up about my care experience.
I just wanted to be accepted for who I was.
When did you start to believe in yourself?
When I was awarded the ‘student of the year’ award in my final year of secondary school.
Did you ever feel alone?
Yes, often, I felt it was difficult to really communicate how I felt, but that got better over time.
Did your foster parents help you?
Yes, they were a great help to me. They had already raised a large family, so knew when I needed to talk.
What’s your message to children in care?
Try to have someone to talk to when you feel the need to talk.
What was it like when you first went into care?
Very scary, I wanted to go back home. I didn’t know what to make of it, and I found it very hard to settle in.
If you could change anything about your life what would it be and why?
Ideally, I wish I didn’t have to go into foster care, and would have wished for a more stable family. So less insecurity, and I am working on this.
In the difficult moments what kept you going?
A deep sense of belief in myself. I also felt that I was very lucky to have good people supporting me.
How did it feel proving people wrong?
Great! It really motivated me when I was growing up, to show that no matter what happens, you can succeed.
No matter what happens, you can succeed
What do you think about the care system now?
It has the same problems as when I was in care, just on a larger scale now, as more children are in care.
What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
Finding my own identity, connecting with my birth family, and forgiving the past. I overcame them by following my heart.
How do you become successful despite a care background?
Success should be internal for a care leaver. The most important thing is to be happy and content in yourself, in spite of all the pressure that a difficult past can bring into your life.
Out of a place of love, comes success.
Is there something you’re most proud of?
That the struggle is over, the healing has begun, and whatever happens, it comes from a place of love.
What is your message to professionals and foster carers?
Listen to what the child is saying, build up trust, and don’t break it.