November 16 2012

Too much too young

EU told how care leavers as young as 14 are abandoned by the system

16/11/2012- “We should not have to leave care at 14 or 15. Change the rules to allow children to stay until 20 at least, and then provide help. They do not have housing and end up on the street, they cannot find employment and therefore, they steal and end up in jail. They lose all self-esteem.” These are the words relayed to EU leaders by young people who have lived in alternative care.

When Care Ends: Lessons from Peer Research is the culmination of two-years work spearheaded by SOS Children’s Villages International, with the support of the EU Commission. The report’s findings were presented at the EU Parliament on November 6, during a three-day event where the discussion was led by 35 youths with experience of living in care. In attendance were in excess of 120 youth care specialists, representatives of public authorities and diverse organisations from 20 countries.

Eristjana Karcana & Marina Muca Peer Researchers Albania address at EU Parliament
Eristjana Karcana & Marina Muca, Peer Researchers from Albania, address at EU Parliament © T. Standun
“It provides the basis for a legal framework for governments and is a starting point to the main pathways to adulthood. These are training, employment, well-being and housing. All are interconnected; one impacts on the other. There is a cost to not supporting young people from care, not just a social cost but an economic cost. The EU should say ‘this is a high priority’. It should be part of the EU social inclusion agenda,” said the report’s co-editor, Professor Mike Stein, from the University of York (UK). 

A methodology for better policy

To get an insight into the lives of young people leaving various types of youth care facilities, the renowned social policy expert knew that the participation of young people as researchers was vital. As a leader in childcare provision globally, SOS Children’s Villages placed young people at the heart of every stage in the process. As a result, 44 young people who had left care were identified and trained to conduct research in Poland, the Czech Republic, Albania and Finland.

A voice for children
A voice for children's rights - Peer Researcher Gazi Lame highlighting issues for care leavers with Margaret Tuite, EU Commission © T. Standun

The partnership involves the cooperation of many organisations. The result now provides all parties with the tools to influence policy at national and international level. It has also endowed the young peer researchers with the unquestionable authority to lead a debate that hinges on the rights of the child.

Young people have identified the problems and some solutions, as articulated by Marta, a peer researcher from Poland: "Social workers are not supervised, no one measures the outcome of their work, improve the quality of recruitment.” In agreement, Margaret Tuite Coordinator for the Rights of the Child at the European Commission said of staff working in residential care, “if they are not aware of the rights of the child they cannot respect them.” For her, the report “has enormous value we need to build on such good practice. This is a win-win project.”

Advocating for children who must growup overnight

“This report can help convince politicians and others to act,” said Maria Herczog, President of Eurochild and Member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. “With the best intention some politicians without understanding the context and importance of the issue have some false and misleading ideas.” Ms Herczog referred to a specific example in the Czech Republic where efforts to reform childcare were vetoed on several occasions.

 Care leavers in Finland have no one to turn to for housing & education Silvia Lukkarinen tells Julius op de Beke EU Commission
Care leavers in Finland have no one to turn to for housing & education, Silvia Lukkarinen tells Julius op de Beke, EU Commission © T. Standun
Members of the European Parliament Véronique de Keyser from Belgium, Tatjana Zdanoka from Latvia and Ireland’s Mairead McGuinness pledged to support the needs of care leavers. “Some of these recommendations are so obvious; it seems appalling that we have to make them. In families everywhere, when children turn 16, 17 or 18 we do not just leave them to the world thereafter. It is at this age that we must care much more. We should not allow the care system to simply look after them until this point and then abandon them,” said Ms McGuinness.

Young people have provided lessons from Peer Research in Finland, Poland, the Czech Republic and Albania. Their hope is that legislators and others act now to ensure care ends in a way that is conducive the rights and wellbeing of children and young adults. They demand nothing more than is available to their peers who have the advantage of a supportive family. As suggested by Giuseppe Porcaro of the European Youth Forum, “invest in youth, don’t consider them as a burden but consider young people as a resource”.