Numerous studies have highlighted that in Europe people with care experience are amongst the most socially excluded groups and are at greater risk of poor outcomes in education, health, employment, criminality, mental health and social functioning in general as compared to the wider population.
Leaving the formal alternative care system is an important phase for both young people and the service providers responsible for their care and development. All the efforts and investments made throughout the child’s alternative care path risk being rendered futile if the preparation for leaving care, the transition out of care and aftercare services fail to provide the individualised support the young person needs.
Together with 11 partners, SOS Children’s Villages International designed two projects (the Leaving Care Project and the Prepare for Leaving Care project) that were granted funding from the European Commission (DG Justice) and that aimed at developing and implementing a state-of-the-art training programme for care professionals who work directly with young people leaving care in order to equip them with the skills, knowledge and tools they need to work with young people in transition. Creating a supporting network for care leavers as well as awareness raising and advocacy activities were part of the projects as well.
In the course of different project activities, we have listened to the voices of young people with care experience from ten European Union countries: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Spain. Through peer-to-peer interviews, these young people have shared what worked for them during the leaving care process, what should remain the same and what should change, as well as what skills, knowledge and experience people who work with care leavers need to have.
The findings tell us that care leavers experience a range of emotions when leaving their place of care: a mix of happiness and expectations of freedom and independence along with feelings of loneliness, anxiety and, sometimes, fear. Care leavers have concerns about their protection, inadequate levels of support, the unsatisfactory manner in which support is offered, lack of access to services, and insufficient participation in decision-making. They feel their needs and wishes are not being fully met by those responsible for supporting them through the care leaving process.
The content of this Call to Action comes from what we have heard from young people with care experience as well as from the professionals working with them. A draft was prepared before the conference “Be the Change! Partnering to improve the transition from alternative care to independent living” and was adapted based on the feedback received by participants and the conclusions that came out of the different discussions that took place in Bucharest on 12 and 13 June, 2019.