Ageing out of care
Earlier this week we noted that ‘ageing out’ of care is the time when a child reaches the legal age at which they must leave their alternative care setting in a country. There are different care settings that unaccompanied and separated children might be leaving. For example, an unaccompanied or separated child might have been living in a residential setting in a transit country - maybe for a short, medium, or long period of time. A child may have been in an alternative family-based care setting since arriving in a country of final destination. An unaccompanied child might have had to remain in a refugee camp.
Whatever the care setting, and while recognising possible challenges, it is our responsibility to try and make the transition from care to independent living as easy as possible for each care leaver. This means taking into consideration how the care leaver:
- Will cope with independence and the new responsibilities and challenges this will bring - especially if they are leaving a controlled and structured environment as, for example, in many large residential settings
- May face many challenges particularly associated with their refugee or migrant status as we discussed in course step 6.3
- Will hopefully see this as a time of happiness and new opportunities, but might face a period of turmoil, uncertainty, adaptation, and loss
A way to help mitigate these concerns and prevent any abrupt move from an alternative care setting is, whenever possible, to carefully plan the process with the care leaver. This can help provide reassurances to the child or young person about what might happen as well as help them access available support when they leave.
We suggest the leaving care process might be undertaken, whenever possible and suitable, in three interconnected phases:
The first is preparation and planning for leaving the care setting while the child or young person is still in that setting
The second might be a planned transition through the provision of support in a semi-independent living setting
The final step involves ongoing support once the care leaver has left any full-time care or semi-independent setting to begin living independently. Ideally this support can be made available for as long as it takes them to adjust
To also help prevent any abrupt separation, if possible, it is really helpful to try and maintain an ongoing connection between the care leaver and their case worker or someone else who has been looking after them.
In the next course steps, we will consider different examples of unaccompanied and separated children ageing out of care. This includes the example of a young person transitioning from full-time care into semi-independent living in a country they consider to be one of transit. We will also consider the best ways to support those moving into independent living.