By Amelia Andrews
Child representatives and care leavers from South East Asia have called for increased support for continuing education, psychosocial care, finding jobs and affordable housing in the wake of COVID-19.
Their recommendations were discussed with Asian government and civil society representatives in an online forum this week.
Adi Soumena, a 17-year-old child rights advocate from SOS Children’s Village Lembang in Indonesia who represented the voices of children in alternative care in the forum, shared the challenges of continuing education virtually. He said a lack of devices, online access, and the limited capacities of educators and caregivers to support virtual learning is hindering millions of children in their education. Children with disabilities in care are especially at a disadvantage.
“Children living with disabilities have found it difficult to transition to virtual learning,” Adi said at the forum. “Lack of disabilities friendly learning materials have made it hard for them to continue their education. Virtual learning has to be made much more inclusive.”
The July 28 virtual forum, titled COVID-19 Response towards the Alternative Care of Children in South East Asia, provided the platform to highlight issues and concerns faced by children and young people in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. The forum aimed to highlight challenges of children, young people and caregivers living in different kinds of alternative care.
Care leavers’ challenges
Young care leavers highlighted the problems of finding jobs when businesses and industries are adversely impacted by COVID-19. There is a lack of policies and benefits to support care leavers to find jobs in the formal sector. They feel the pressure of not having resources and social networks which can help them tide through the challenging times.
Le Hoang Phong, a 27-year-old youth advocate and a care leaver from SOS Children’s Villages Go Vap in Vietnam, said: “The opportunities of job placements through vocational training institutions are also quite negligible as there is little coordination between institutions and enterprises. SOS Children’s Villages could build partnerships with corporates and develop customised vocational training and recruitment programmes.”
The pandemic has left many care leavers struggling to find affordable and safe housing. Housing support is a key concern for care leavers. The ones who have exited care depend on their incomes or savings to secure housing. However, the loss of job or income due to COVID-19 has led many of them to exhaust their savings and potentially lose their homes.
The young care leavers recommended that they should have guidance and financial support for housing after leaving care as having a safe space is critical to their well-being and growth. Their recommendations were similar to those outlined in an international care leaver’s declaration developed at an earlier youth forum.
Ms. Shubha Murthi, Deputy COO, SOS Children’s Villages International said: “Young care leavers, especially with their own children are finding it difficult to survive. They do not have a social network that a biological family offers and are left without a safety net in difficult times. Many care leavers have reached out to SOS Children’s Villages for help in three areas: emotional support, reskilling to match the current requirements of the job market and financial security.”
Representatives of regional bodies such as ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC), governmental agencies/policymakers such as the Ministry of Social Affairs, Indonesia, the Ministry of Labour - Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA) of Vietnam, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Vietnam and civil society organisations (CSOs) from South East Asia also participated in the forum. They shared measures taken by the governments such as timely advisories, food support and financial assistance to help children and youth in alternative care.
It was recommended that the way forward should allow for children to engage with local governments for COVID-19 response, such as raising awareness among children and young people, distribution of food; and also to provide peer support for studying at home. The other recommendations include an ASEAN Alternative Care Alliance to share knowledge and best practices within the region. It will help to advocate collectively for quality alternative care. Yuyum Fhahni Paryani, the ACWC representative in Indonesia also suggested strengthening regional cooperation for realising fundamental freedoms and well-being of vulnerable populations.
The virtual forum, organised by SOS Children’s Villages International Office – Asia, in association with the South East Asian member associations, was attended by 268 attendees, representing governments, United Nation (UN) bodies, CSOs and academia as well as children and youth both in care and care leavers from Asia, Europe and Africa. CSOs included Hope and Homes for Children, Lumos, The Asia Foundation, Family for Every Child, and Plan International. UN was represented by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).