The struggles of care leavers: facing adversity without stable support

Care leavers are youth who were once wards of the state, and now have either aged out of their care homes or have left for other reasons. During this transition out of care homes and on their way to independence, care leavers face multiple challenges. While AFEC deals only with care leavers from India, this is an international problem, and care leavers are seen as a unique, vulnerable section of the population.

These youth are face significant challenges stemming from their disrupted upbringing, lack of stable family support, and limited life skills. They require help with education, housing, employment, and emotional well-being to set them up for success as adults.

What’s the scale of the issue?

Data from the Ministry of Women and Child Development states that there are around 400,000 children in childcare facilities across India. Globally, that is the third-largest number of children growing up in institutionalized care.

However, there is a lack of comprehensive data on the number of individuals leaving institutional care in India every year. Based on census data, it is estimated that approximately 50,000 young adults transition out of their care homes when they turn 18. Once they reach this point, they are left with minimal support. Although the Government of India’s Mission Vatsalya offers a monthly allowance of Rs. 4,000 to care leavers until they turn 21, only a small number of them are actually aware of this scheme. Even fewer are able to take advantage of it.

A post-Covid study in 2022 finds that most care leavers lack a social support network, which means that any intervention will need to help them be more resilient to face the outside world. Since a majority of care leavers (65.9%) do not have even one parent, (only 18.2% have some form of parental care), they receive very little support of any form.

Unique problems faced by care leavers

While all children growing up in poverty have challenges transitioning into financial independence, care leavers have a number of unique risks that result from their upbringing, and the perils of growing up in one or more care homes.

These include:

  • Limited social networks and support systems: Care leavers often lack a strong support network of family or close relationships, leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Building social connections and support systems is crucial for their emotional and practical well-being.
  • Lack of stable housing: Without a secure place to live and adequate financial resources, they may experience homelessness or have to rely on temporary accommodations
  • Lack of financial stability: They often don’t have access to quality education. They may have experienced disruptions in their schooling or lack the financial resources to pursue higher education. This can limit their career options, preventing them from achieving financial stability.
  • Emotional and mental health issues: Their disrupted upbringing and experiences of trauma, separation, and loss can lead to mental health issues and difficulties in forming and maintaining relationships. Lack of access to psychological support and counselling services can further aggravate these issues.
  • Higher risk of being involved in criminal activities: Without proper assistance and resources, these risks can significantly impact their well-being and hinder their successful integration into society.

Government entities are making efforts to address these specific needs. In addition, non-governmental organizations like A Future for Every Child (AFEC) and others have a common aim of helping care leavers improve their outcomes in adulthood.

Through education, vocational training, employment assistance, and emotional support, AFEC aims to empower care leavers and create a nurturing environment. By addressing the unique risks and vulnerabilities they face, AFEC and other organizations work tirelessly to provide a brighter future for them.

With continued efforts and support, there is potential for positive change and better integration of care leavers into society.

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