Children without parental care have gained global attention recently, with the United Nations General Assembly adopting the resolution of promoting and protecting the rights of children in December 2019. Even as the resolution calls upon governments to prioritise investment in child protection services to support quality alternative care, it also ensures that young people leaving alternative care receive appropriate support in preparing them for the transition to independent living. This includes support in gaining access to employment, education, training, housing, psychological support, participating in rehabilitation with their families where this is in their best interest, and gaining access to aftercare services that are consistent with UNICEF’s Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children.
Children who turn 18 and become young adults are expected to leave their controlled care setting. They are a vulnerable cohort, as the approach to the situation has not been rights-based. There is enough evidence globally, as well as in India, that these youth need continued support in meaningful ways for various reasons; even the law prescribes it.
But after 18 years of age, the understanding of functionaries is not adequate, and implementation is also very poor. Without family support, they face renewed challenges such as poor mental health, lack of appropriate housing, unemployment, and lack of life skills, once they’re out of the care setting, all leading to the pathway of living on their own, without any external support. They face further disadvantages because they are not recognised as a vulnerable group, thereby getting excluded from large national schemes, creating a structural impediment in availing any benefits.
Care leavers, or care experienced young people (young people who have left alternative care to return to families or transition to independent living), are part of a universally vulnerable group, who have generally not received the ongoing and holistic support that they require to transition successfully into adulthood. Recent years have seen a growing international awareness of the needs of care. The issue remains largely unaddressed in Asian countries, but things are slowly improving.
In the recently published research reports by Udayan Care, with support from various state governments, UNICEF, Tata Trusts and other individual donors, the situational challenges of young people transitioning from out-of-home care, have been analysed and illustrated through an ideological framework called the ‘Sphere of Aftercare’.
The study is evidence of the fact that growing up in care settings in India has an adverse impact on the care leavers’ education, skills, and social stability. It also shows that it does not prepare them for transition into adulthood. It reinforces the fact that transitioning out of care leads to re-traumatisation of youth, who have already faced trauma and multiple adverse childhood experiences. Constraints exist in the form of deficits at the level of information, access, investment, skills, knowledge, and training on transition planning, with female care leavers notably experiencing a greater disadvantage.
Along with the law, policy and promising practices, the Udayan report also comprehensively charts the pathway for care leavers in India, in the form of recommendations to various duty bearers at different levels, which can improve a range of critical outcomes for them.
The report has led to a lot of traction from various state governments reiterating and implementing measures at different levels. But, there is a need to build a national movement in India that strengthens aftercare.
To sustain the momentum on aftercare in the country, it is important that the recommendations are followed through, and include the voices of care leavers, ensuring that they can become resilient, contributing citizens of the country, and a resourceful asset to the juvenile justice system. For this to happen, stakeholders, especially governments, have to invest more human and financial resources in this cohort.
In this context, International Care Leavers Convention is a first-of-its-kind summit in India, which is being organised by Udayan Care, SOS Children’s Villages, and the University of Hildesheim, in collaboration with Amity University. The convention aims to provide care leavers with a platform to learn, share and exchange their experiences, knowledge, and challenges as a first step to be able to amplify their voices.
It is a unique opportunity to collectivise care leavers at a transnational level, as the insights provided by these young leaders can effectively reform our care systems. It aims to bring together representatives of the existing network and care leavers from different parts of India and the world, especially in regions such as Europe, Africa, and Asia. Around 130 care leavers are expected at the convention, interfacing with sector experts, private actors, and stakeholders.
The convention will bring together young people from different countries, but with similar experiences of being in care and transitioning out of care. The gathering will provide them a unique opportunity to share their experiences and learn from each other, leading to increased empathy, and the ability to recognise and respond to others’ emotions, along with better mutual understanding and respect for each other. It will also inspire the care leavers as well as the functionaries by increasing their knowledge about care reforms, success stories and promising models in different countries. The Convention is a forum for all care leavers to reflect on the gaps in care provision and support as experienced by them, voice their ideas for change, and reaffirm their demands for better measures that will ensure that their rights are fully realised.