October 16 2009

Conference on leaving care in Lithuania: Keeping the door open

16/10/2009 - On 7 and 8 October 2009 the Lithuanian Ministry of Social Security and Labour and the Council of the Baltic Sea States in partnership with the Council of Europe, UNICEF and SOS Children's Villages International organised the conference "Keeping the door open - Support to young people leaving care" in Vilnius aimed at improving the services provided to young people leaving alternative care.

Photo: Emmanuel Sherwin
16-year-old Arlinda who grows in the care of SOS Children's Villages Albania stresses the importance of education for the future - Photo: Emmanuel Sherwin

Through presentations, workshops and seminars young people with care experience, care providers, representatives from non-governmental organisations, social services and governments from across Europe shared experiences and ideas on increasing the quality and efficiency of support to children and young people ageing out of care.

Assessment of the current situation and new projects seem to be in the focus for most of the participating countries with emphasis on the need for prolonging the care and support after reaching the age of 18 which across Europe today is the most common age when young persons are required to leave care. Experiences and initiatives from different countries illustrated possible ways of ensuring longer and better support.

The conference saw the participation of a group of young people age 15 to 22 coming from different European countries. They all had care experience or are still in the alternative care system; and were therefore directly concerned with the issues discussed and provided practical input and ideas on the areas requiring improvements.

Photo: Emmanuel Sherwin

For each of the four main themes of the conference: emotional stability and wellbeing, education, housing and employment, the young people provided examples of the current situation in their countries and pointed out to possible solutions: such as the need for longer and stabile emotional support; ensuring sufficient and equal financial support in all countries regardless of the economic situation; access to quality education for all children; support in finding employment and assistance in solving their housing.

On behalf of their peers across Europe, the young people voiced out the necessity for non-discriminative treatment of children raised in the alternative care system and called to the decision-makers to listen to their needs. "A person leaving care is not just another file. The UN Convention for the Rights of the Child is not just another document. It must be brought to life. It must work for every child!" were some of the reminders the young people had to say.

The young people stressed the importance of their participation in such conferences which assures them that someone does care about them and that changes are headed in the right direction. The inclusion of the young persons' input in the concluding remarks assured them they were listened to. "All which is left now," as Mr Richard Pichler, Secretary-General of SOS Children's Villages International, said in his key-note speech at the conference, "is to do it."