“Why Would They Call Me an Orphan When I Have Parents”: Care Leavers’ Experiences of Labelling and Stereotyping Whilst Living in Residential Care Facilities in Zimbabwe

Getrude Dadirai Gwenzi, John Ringson

Care leaving research has focused on the experiences of young people when they make the transition from residential care facilities (RCCFs) back into mainstream society. Past research has found evidence of social exclusion and documents challenges that care leavers face when re-entering the society when they age-out of care. Some challenges include a lack of preparation for independent living, including limited financial, housing and employment support. There exists a gap in care leaving literature about the extent to which the labelling and stereotyping of care leavers during their time in RCCFs affects their transitions into adulthood. This paper presents an analysis of interviews conducted with care leavers from six childcare facilities in Zimbabwe (n = 30).

The paper argues that the labelling and stereotyping of care leavers has a negative effect on how they are accepted and reintegrated into the society. The thematic analysis of the data provides clear evidence of some of the negative labels such as being called an“orphan” in the case of some non-orphans in RCCFs, and the negative stereotypes which stuck with the care leavers years into their adulthood. These labels and stereotypes also affected care leavers’ own perceptions of themselves as well as their interpersonal relationships with others.

The paper identifies some implications for social work practice and makes recommendations towards the promotion of a more positive social image of care leavers.

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