The transition from alternative care to independent living can be challenging for young people. While some departures from care may be well planned, others may be sudden or unexpected, leaving young people emotionally and financially ill-equipped to cope with change. Without adequate preparation for leaving care and support during the aftercare phase, young people may face risks such as long-term unemployment, substance abuse, involvement in criminal activities and homelessness. Studies indicate that the biggest barriers to transitioning children out of care includes the absence of supportive relationships, educational challenges, housing instability and economic challenges (unemployment).
Reducing these risks involves working with children to plan for life after care and adulthood– including helping them to determine the most appropriate living environment, develop necessary life, financial management and job skills, and ensure that they have a reliable support system in place. Once children leave care, they should be encouraged to maintain contact with their previous care givers and friends, have access to basic services and quality housing with financial assistance, and be supported to follow educational, vocational and employment opportunities. Above all, evidence indicates that young people who benefit from gradual, extended and supported transitions from care have better outcomes than those who leave early and abruptly.
Girls and boys who leave care to return home can also benefit from a gradual process of reintegration with their families – both before and after the event. Initially this should involve a comprehensive assessment of whether the problems that led to family separation (such as poverty or social problems) have been adequately resolved, and whether a return home is in a child’s best interests. If so, the child, family and alternative caregivers should be supported to prepare and plan for reintegration – which may involve increasing the frequency and duration of children’s family visits before the final return, helping to build parenting skills, assessing families’ financial, practical and emotional support needs and developing a care plan to address them.
Once children are reunited with their families, ongoing support and supervision can play a critical role in ensuring that reintegration is lasting. For example social or community workers can provide counselling support, facilitate families’ access to social protection benefits and make sure that children have the academic support required to catch up at a new school. In some cases, children’s extended family and the broader community can also be encouraged to provide emotional or practical support.
This section contains literature on children leaving alternative care in non-emergency settings. This includes lessons learned and best practices regarding family reintegration, as well as guidance for supporting young people as they leave the care system and transition to independent living.