My name is Deborah Somorin and I am the founder of an NGO called Empower the Family. I was born in England and moved between the U.K. and Nigeria till the age of 10. At 10 I moved to Ireland with my mother and 3 siblings. Unfortunately my mother had been suffering from depression for a number of years and this led to break down in the relationship between me and my mother. A permanent care order was later issued to the state for me. Subsequently, I became homeless for the first time at 13 years old. I spent 9 months in emergency homeless accommodation at 13. At 14 I was pregnant and at 15 I was a mother to an amazing son called Liam.
At 24, I am a qualified chartered accountant. I have a degree and a Masters in Accounting from DCU, one of the leading universities in Ireland. My son Liam is 9 and does maths on his tablet for fun. I've raised him as a single parent since he was born. I had the most amazing support from a care home I lived in at this stage, for me and my son till I was 18. They gave me the confidence that I could do anything if I put my mind to it while I completed my high school education. This belief in me that I could do this, when I did not believe it myself, is was what helped me in the years to come, especially after I had to move out at 18 into independent living with my son (this is compulsory for children in state care in Ireland).
In the midst of an unusual and escalating youth homeless crisis in Ireland, I was approached by a homeless charity that supported me at 14 to share my story to help them raise funds with professional business women. Although terrified of the reaction that sharing a story like this would have, I knew I had to do something. Sharing my story gave me an opportunity to do something that could possibly have an impact in getting support for those women and children experiencing what I had experienced at one of the worst times in my life.
Sharing my story started did not feel like I was doing enough, although it was helping a charity raise funds. I knew not only could I do more, but I actually had a responsibility to do more so that the many people with a similar background to mine could also overcome the adversity they are facing in their lives on a daily basis.
I had an idea that I didn't envisage acting on until much later on in life. However, with the current homeless crisis in Ireland, research I had done plus the network I had built from sharing my story, I knew this was something that needed to be acted on now.
Ireland is a developed country with an economy that is booming. It made no sense to me that 1 in 5 single parents in Ireland lived in consistent poverty according to the national census conducted in Ireland in 2016. That means their children also live in consistent poverty. Unfortunately the likelihood of living in consistent poverty and the level of education attained are highly correlated in Ireland. According to the census data those who finish school at secondary level are 607% more likely to end up in poverty than those who have a third level degree or higher in Ireland. Unfortunately there is also a substantial inequality in the proportion of people progressing to third level education in Ireland based on how disadvantaged the area you live in is. For example, a young person is 430% less likely to go to college based on if he/she grew up in Dublin 1 (i.e. Dorset Street and Talbot Street - disadvantaged areas in Dublin) in comparison to Dublin 6 (i.e. Rathmines and Ranelagh - affluent areas in Dublin). This was measured and highlighted in a report by the Irish Government organisation, The Higher Education Authority.
I knew there was a solution to help other single parents and their children overcome adversity and dig themselves out of poverty, away from welfare supports and create a better life for their children. However, Ireland has a history of universities being out of reach for those from disadvantaged communities. So some of the people who do progress from these communities into a university now, are actually the first person in the entire history of their families to go to university. This highlights the level of poverty in disadvantaged communities due to the proven link between a university education in Ireland and the likelihood of living in consistent poverty. It highlights how these disadvantaged communities need outreach services tailored to the end users unique needs if they are to be effective.
I know the numerous barriers placed in my way on a near daily basis while I went on my journey from homelessness to being a chartered accountant. I know that there are numerous times my journey could have been cut short not because of a lack of determination or ability but because of issues with accommodation and childcare. Research recently commissioned by the Irish government into the low participation rates of single parents in university corroborated these are the same issues other single parents face in Ireland which actually act as a barrier to entry into university. Some of these single parents living in consistent poverty with their children, are not single parents who lack determination or ability to succeed in university, they are people who do not have access to the right supports to enable them to succeed in creating a better life for their children. Well I know what those right supports are and I also understand how important it is to have them all in one place as I always wished for on my journey.
This is why I decided to start Empower the Family.
Empower the Family will open student accommodation for single parents in university with affordable quality childcare all in the same building. Our creche will be run by the amazing Karen Clince who runs 14 creches in Ireland but who also was a young parent who juggled parenting with obtaining her degree, as did her mother. All 3 of us are living proof of what can be achieved with the right supports being made available to single parents.
We plan to open our first location in Dublin by September 2020. We also aim to:
1. have capacity for at least 10 single parents
2. ring fence a place for a homeless single parent in university and another for a single parent in university who will be transitioning out of the state care system due to their increased risk of homelessness as a result of the housing crisis in Ireland
3. have a graduation rate of at least 80% with the parents that stay with us
4. eventually have one location in every county where there is a university in Ireland.