Highlights of Day 1 of the International Care Leavers Convention 2020
Today marked the beginning of an exciting international online event - The International Care Leavers Convention. The participants were greeted and welcomed by Dr. Kiran Modi, Founder and Managing Trustee, Udayan Care, India on behalf of the Convention Organizing Committee, followed by representatives of the key partners who made their opening addresses (SOS Children’s Villages International, University of Hildesheim, Germany, Kinderperspectief, Netherlands, Generation Never Give-up (GNG) Network, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe Care Leavers’ Network).
One of the very first panels was moderated by our colleague Patrick Reason from FICE Brasil, focused on "The COVID-19 impact on Care Leavers: Global Experience". The panel featured Care leavers and representatives of care leaver associations from different countries - Ms. Fabienne Landerer, Austria; Mr. Le Phong, Vietnam, Ms. Tanja Abou, Germany, Ms. Tasha Reynolds, Australia, Md. Ebrahim Salama, Egypt. They shared some of the biggest challenges that they have been faced with and that have been exacerbated by the global pandemic of COVID-19, including mental health issues, loss of employment, loss of accommodation, unstable financial situation, insufficient support. In order to overcome these hardships, staying in contact with friends and family, networking with peers really helped.
Additionally, the young people advised that in order to improve their situation, extending care until the age of 21 would really help. Their access to mental health support and therapy needs to be improved. Policy-makers should interact more with young care leavers and really listen to their needs and challenges.
"Why are others making decisions about my life, who are not living it?!"- Fabienne Landerer, Care Leavers Association Austria
Within the following panel, moderated by Mr. Terry Dignan, CEO, EPIC, Ireland, there were 6 panelists, one of whom was our co-president, Emmanuel Grupper. The panel was focused on "The international Commitment to Youth, with particular focus on Care Leavers".
FICE International has been working on the topic of young care leavers since a very long time. In 2006, in Sarajevo, the organization gathered care leavers from Eastern and Western Europe in a youth exchange, as Martine Tobè from Kinderperspectief, Netherlands and FICE Netherlands outlined.
Prof. Grupper spoke on the importance of building a "safety net" for young care leavers. Support needs to be provided especially in terms of: housing; vocational training; emotional support, social relationships; significant adults; advocacating for care leavers before the state authourities. As grown up people care leavers need to be strongly involved in all processes concerning them.
As professionals we need to help the development of care leavers associations and the organization of care leaver forums, When trying to improve care programs and services, professionals need to listen to care leavers' voices.
Prof. Grupper highlighted the growing importance of NGO and state support to care leavers in view with finding solutions to the challenges posed by the global COVID-19 pandemic.
The next panel was moderated by Moderated by Prof Mike Stein, UK and featured several outstanding professionals from the USA, Australia, Uganda, Egypt, Germany. The topic of this panel was "Policy and Legal Framework on Care Leaving: Overview, Concepts and Strategies on Leaving Care". Many interesting facts about the legal framework for aftercare and supporting care leavers were shared. In Egypt young people can stay in child care if they are accepted into a university and until they graduate if the circumstances for being in care are still standing. The organization Wataneya society works in partnership with the Ministry of Social Affairs in Egypt especially on designing quality standards for child and youth care. They recently developed a special program, called "Care Leavers' Independence" in the design of which they involved young care leavers.
In Australia, the preparation for leaving care begins at the age of 15. There have been continuous efforts to extend the care and support up until 25, which was not completely achieved. Currently the young people can stay in care up until 21.
In Germany a study some years ago revealed that most of the children who live with their families can stay with them until 25, in contrast to young people in care who have to leave the facilities at 18. At this age they are usually not well prepared for this transition into adulthood, which poses a big challange,
"25 should be the new 18" - Karishma Singh, Care Leaver, India
In conclusion, legal and policy frameworks in different countries around the world are at different stages of development. Still there is a lot to be done in terms of improving the outcomes for young care leavers.
Most importantly, young people's involvement in the development of such legal and policy frameworks is crucial.