Young people in the general population often leave home only in their twenties. By contrast, young people in the foster and residential care system must leave care at 18 years, whether or not they are ready. Young people leaving care are less likely than their peers leaving home to have a 'safety net' of family support. Preparations for leaving after care should, therefore, start well before they have to leave the children's home or foster care, and continue for at least a few years after leaving care. This is vital to enable successful transitioning from care to young adulthood, and to promote independent or (what is more strongly advocated in the African context) interdependent living. These were among the sentiments shared during the care-leaving workshop and conference held at the University of Johannesburg's Auckland Park Kingsway Campus.
The Department of Social Work at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), in partnership with Queen's University, Belfast (QUB), the Africa Network of Care-leaving Researchers (ANCR) and Girls and Boys Town South Africa (GBT), hosted a three-day workshop from 15-17 January 2019, to build the capacity of emerging African scholars in this field, to develop networks of relationships and to construct a foundation for one or more funding applications for multinational research on care-leaving in Africa. This was followed by a one-day conference on 18 January 2019, where 10 of the workshop participants presented research papers at the First Africa Care-leaving Conference.
"My research in South Africa, which I conduct in partnership with GBT, has sought to understand the journey of these young people out of the care system and into young adulthood, to measure their outcomes year-by-year as they transition out of care and to determine what social-ecological resilience factors predict smoother and more effective transitions into adulthood," said Adrian van Breda, Professor of Social Work at UJ.
The workshop was conceived in 2016, when Prof van Breda and Dr Kwabena Frimpong-Manso of the University of Ghana established ANCR for African scholars studying care-leaving. The aim of ANCR is to capacitate African care-leaving scholars and to build up an opus of indigenous knowledge on the subject. ANCR has a meaningful digital presence at https://careleaving.com and has negotiated membership of the larger International Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood from Care (https://globalintrac.com/). ANCR has also secured a themed issue of care-leaving in Africa with the journal Emerging Adulthood, edited by Prof van Breda and Dr Frimpong-Manso.
The conference topics included: the experiences of care-leavers in Ghana; economic empowerment and employment in Uganda and the USA; poverty and sustainable livelihoods in Zimbabwe; Ubuntu in South Africa; the role of possible selves in promoting care-leavers' resilience in South Africa; disability among care-leavers in Northern Ireland; findings from a six-year longitudinal study in South Africa; and social exclusion in Malawi, Côte d'Ivoire and Kenya.
"When the state decides that a child should be removed from her or his parents and placed in care, the state takes over the role of parent", explained Prof van Breda. "With that should come the responsibility to ensure that that young person successfully transitions into adulthood, must as any parent would do. Through this workshop and conference, ANCR, with its partners (QUB and UJ), is working to ensure that such children obtain the support they require to make this transition."
Thirty-seven scholars attended the workshop, representing 10 countries in Africa and three in the global North (USA, UK and Netherlands). Two hundred people attended the conference, where nine papers were presented. In both events, considerable thought was given to issues of African culture and context. In addition, there was much discussion on decoloniality regarding the place of African research in global context.
"Every young person in care needs to be supported and empowered to develop and mobilise the necessary skills and resources to achieve interdependent living. Researchers have a vital role to play in understanding the care-leaving process in African contexts and to identify the resources and processes that contribute most to facilitating the transition out of care," concluded Prof van Breda.