Priyanka Kumari, 21 years, lives with her family and works as a coordinator in the Art Department of Udayan Care. Here, she shares her lived experiences as a youth who interacted with a group of Care Leavers (youth exiting Child Care Institutions) during the course of her work and developed a special bond with them. Her write up shows the challenges that youth face and how each one of us can learn from our fellow colleagues.
Where do you stay?
Where do you live?
Where are you employed?
I’m sure most of you reading this post have an answer to these questions. But just imagine you grew up in an institution all by yourself because you were left alone by your family, and you need to answer these questions for your survival from the day you stepped out at the age of 18. Such questions and situations have become a stage and a phase in the lives of youth, the Care Leavers, who leave Child Care Institutions.
At 18, you are legally an adult. You have your own rights, and you are considered to be able to take major decisions in your life. Taking decisions and using your rights while living with your family is doable. But leaving your surrogate family in the institution, the people with whom you spent your childhood and your adolescent age, to stand on your own feet and survive at such a young age is a huge challenge. The major reasons being the lack of adequate options and indefinite policies and practices, followed by practitioners and functionaries, for the youth leaving the care system.
The age when other youths in a family are more career-oriented, the youth leaving care institutions are engaged in laying the foundation for survival and growth in life. A young adult like me who has lived in a family environment can differentiate and compare the situation of being with parental figures or leaving them voluntarily. But the youth leaving care centres don’t even have an option. This is not me being sympathetic towards them, but rather being empathic and more understanding and trying to find some alternatives.
I remember when I was 20 years old, I met some of these amazing people, and they turned out to be an inspiration for me. As I got more chances to meet them together, I was stunned to know the struggles they go through every single day financially, mentally and emotionally. For youth like me, freedom from family supervision in any manner will make me feel relieved, but for them, to be free from the care system does not bring a smile on their faces. The uncertain plans after 18 years of age, missing emotional support and fewer possibilities of experimenting with your life somewhere kill one from inside.
But this group of new friends are strong and optimistic about their lives. One of them, who now has his own rented flat to live in, a good job and good opportunities for higher education, in a humorous and interesting manner, opened up some past pages of his life, where the platforms of railway stations used to be his bed, bottle collecting used to be his vocation, and treating himself and his little brother with some coins and notes used to be his only source of happiness. Some good company of friends and later hand-holding of mentors helped him stand on his own feet.
Author Dr Joanne Foster, in her article “Children’s Emotional Wellbeing: Eight Practical Tips for Parents”, has written, “Kids who have a positive perspective about the ups and downs of daily life are better able to stretch themselves cognitively, creatively, productively, and socially.”
This is true and can be implemented by biological parents for their younger kids or adults. This same technique should be used by mentors and caregivers before and between the ages 16 and 18 while the child is still in the institution. This will help the children psychologically prepare themselves to live and self-build a life ahead after 18.
An adult, under parental care, knows that there is someone who will always hold their hand and be there whenever they need support, love and care and shall feel proud of their achievements. The reality is that a child care institution cannot fill this vacant space, but can assure children that they will be there should a problem come up. This may not be comparable but will be more than enough to give strength to these children.
Being with them has taught me that destiny is like water; it can take the shape of any vessel you put it in, but the condition is your vessel should be as strong as your courage, wide as your thoughts, flexible to grab opportunities and ready to have a smile and optimism even in difficult times. And thus, you can write your destiny!
“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” – Fred Rogers