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Transitioning out of care to independent living

Transitioning out of care to independent living
Young woman with sitting on bed clutching a soft toy
© SOS Children’s Villages International

Varying levels of support are being offered to young people transitioning out of care in different countries of the world – sometimes this support may be intensive but for others there is no support at all. The periods of transition and after care are a very significant time in a young person’s life whether, they are seeking independent living or, moving back to their families and/or communities.

The UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children urge States to have clear policies and services that support children and young people who must leave their care placement when they reach the legal age this becomes necessary. In this respect, the Guidelines note the need for the facilitation of leaving care that assists ‘children to assume self-reliance and to integrate fully in the community, notably through the acquisition of social and life skills’.

The Guidelines propose that the period of transition and planning for leaving and aftercare ‘should be prepared as early as possible in the placement and, in any case, well before the child leaves the care setting’. In addition, whenever possible, a “specialized care worker” should be appointed to provide support during the transition period and after leaving care. The Guidelines further note the importance of care leavers being offered educational and vocational training opportunities and the attainment of life skills that will help them with their independent status. They must also be assisted with access to social, legal and health and other services, as well as financial support, if and when necessary.

Supporting and facilitating the leaving care process

Some of the issues we might consider in relation to supporting the leaving care process include:

  • The importance of participation – making sure care leavers having a voice and lead role in shaping their individual pathways out of and, after care, by identifying their own needs and wishes, planning actions, and reviewing progress;
  • Putting the child or young person at the centre when providing both practical and personal support;
  • Making sure leaving care planning is not a separate process but is part of a child’s/young persons’ continuous journey to adulthood which should start when they come into care and responds to circumstances, needs, and wishes as they evolve over time;
  • Understanding leaving care as a dynamic process requiring a genuine partnership between care agencies, service providers and care leavers;
  • Emphasising the need to maintain existing relationships throughout and beyond the care leaving process;
  • Considering the social, emotional, educational, cultural impact on care leavers – particularly remembering young people have already experienced difficult transitions and lack of permanence etc.;
  • Advocating for the necessary laws, policies, standards, and regulations that facilitate the best leaving care experience possible including access to a range of services.

Supporting transition and aftercare

Supporting a transition process that provides choices and considers the levels of support/access to universal and specialist services includes consideration of the following topics:

  • Social networks, family, and friends – importance of developing and supporting networks of support including positive engagement with family;
  • Practical skills – cooking/using public transport etc.;
  • Education – access to higher education and vocational training;
  • Employment – access to work, apprenticeships etc.;
  • Accommodation – providing a range of options;
  • Money – planning, budgeting and using;
  • Health and wellbeing – physical and mental health and emotional wellbeing. Impact of loss, trauma, attachment, and resilience. Importance of recreational and creative opportunities in developing and promoting resilience;
  • Care leavers as young parents;
  • Knowledge of rights and accessing legal entitlements.

The reflections of care leavers

We asked a number of care leavers in different countries what had been important to them during the transition to independent living and aftercare. They particularly stressed the importance of the relationship between the care workers supporting the process and themselves. Here are some examples of what they told us:

‘It is difficult because sometimes we would like to say so many things. But if things are done with love we can get further…When I came through the care system I liked to be listened to, to hear that everything will be ok… The care workers are just a worker but we really like to know they are really involved and it’s not just a job for them.’
Reben from Spain
‘Love is always the option…the care workers should really think about that more. Those people who are with broken hearts, they really need some love…so I think it is the main thing’.
Patricija from Lithuania
‘In my opinion, care professionals…should try to be at the same level with young people… I also think the workforce should climb down from the level they tend to put themselves with professionalism and years of experience where they have done things a certain way. I think they should actually be there for the young person… and don’t be afraid to put themselves into their work with the young person, because what she or he would appreciate more is the human side of the professional’.
Fabio from Italy

The ‘See Also’ section below has a links to other reading materials that may be of interest to you.

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Getting Care Right for All Children: Implementing the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children

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