You may have heard the line ‘AFEC helps care leavers (or youth leaving care) have a shot at a better life’. But who are these care leavers? Where does this term come from? Why do they need help? This post helps build some context and a little history of the term.
Who is a care leaver?
The legal definition of a care leaver according to The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 in the UK is: “Someone who has been in the care of the Local Authority for a period of 13 weeks or more spanning their 16th birthday”. However, the Care Leavers’ Association, a user-led charity to help care leavers, has a simpler definition. They define a care leaver as “Any adult who spent time in care, anywhere from a few months to their whole childhood until the age of 18.”
Care could be provided through residential or foster care, or in child care institutions run by state or private organizations. It may also include institutions like secure units or industrial schools that have a more punitive nature than standard residential or childcare institutions.
At AFEC, we work mainly with children who were in childcare institutions or care homes at some point in their lives. Alternative terms that have been suggested for care leavers are care-experienced adults, transition-aged youth, or youth leaving care.
Childcare systems in the US and UK vs India
In the US and UK, childcare systems are mostly foster homes, where children are taken in by parents or families to be cared for, rather than going to a childcare institution. These families are usually compensated by the state unless they are the immediate family of the children.
In India, children who are abandoned, orphaned, run away from home, or come from extreme poverty are under the care of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) of the state. The CWCs usually send these children to childcare institutions or care homes (these were earlier called orphanages, but the terminology changed with the Juvenile Justice Act of 2015). Data from the Ministry of Women and Child Development shows that there are around 4,00,000 children in childcare facilities across the country.
Situation in India
Annually an estimated 50,000 youth age out of care homes when they turn 18. After this point, there is almost no support available to these children. While Mission Vatsalya provides Rs. 4000 a month for youth leaving care (care leavers) till they turn 21, very few of them are actually aware of the scheme, and even fewer are able to benefit from it.
Given their extremely difficult childhood, care leavers are likely to have trauma from growing up in unsuitable and even abusive conditions and a lack of financial security and support once they leave.
In addition to the trauma, care leavers might not have been able to complete school, which makes it harder to build a career path. Without support from the state, care leavers are most vulnerable to falling into a cycle of poverty and crime.
National Care Leavers Network
In August 2021, the National Care Leavers Network (NCLN) was launched by young representatives of care leavers in India to address concerns such as lack of job security, a support system and equal opportunities for care leavers.
This is a youth-led network that aims to empower youth leaving childcare institutions and equip them for life outside of care. This is just a small step to provide a supportive community for care leavers as they integrate into life beyond care. However, programs that include financial aid, as well as mentoring, are essential to help care leavers become part of mainstream society.