Care-leaving in Africa: Findings from four countries

Building Positive Futures: A Cross-Country Pilot Study on Youth Transitions from Out-of-Home Care in Africa

Over the past year, a group of researchers from Northern Ireland and four countries in Africa have been working on a four-country comparative feasibility study of care-leaving. We partnered with SOS Children’s Villages, who have a footprint in many countries in Africa. We are pleased to announce that the study is complete and the reports are available below for your interest.

The aim of this study was to establish the feasibility of a methodology for a comparative cross-country African study on leaving care.

The objectives of the pilot project were to:

  1. Test the applicability and translatability of an amended version of the research methodology used in the South African Growth beyond the Town (GBT) care-leaving study to investigate the experiences of care leavers in four African contexts (Ghana, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe).
  2. Develop the research methodology to be inclusive of different groups of care leavers, with particular consideration of gender, disability, ethnicity and cultural background.
  3. Explore the feasibility of developing a research approach that builds on the capacity of young people who have already left care to act as peer researchers.
  4. Explore the utility of the theories of resilience (Van Breda, 2018a), care-leaving (Van Breda, 2015), life course (including waithood) (Cuzzocrea, 2019; Honwana, 2014) and intersectionality (including disability theory) (Liddiard et al., 2019) to explain care-leaving transitions in Africa.

The principle investigator (who is a member of Queen’s University, from where the funding is provided) was Prof Berni Kelly. The Africa study lead was Prof Adrian van Breda (University of Johannesburg) and the four country leads were Dr Kwabena Frimpong-Manso (Ghana), Dr Admire Chereni (Zimbabwe), Dr Paul Bukuluki (Uganda) and Prof Adrian (South Africa). They were supported also by research assistants: Dr John Ringson (South Africa), Dr Ronald Luwangula (Uganda) and Ms Joana Bekoe (Ghana). At Queen’s, Prof John Pinkerton and Dr Olinda Santin also participated, particularly regarding policy and peer research respectively.

Our 11 key messages for policy and practice are:

Please bear in mind that this was a small feasibility study drawing on only SOS Children’s Villages participants, not a representative sample of care-leavers from these four countries.

1) The SOS CV family approach to care appears to be meaningful to participants, creating an experience of an alternative family, rather than merely a child protection mechanism. However, this also creates expectations about ongoing care, even love, that are not always possible to meet. Renegotiating the nature of the care relationship may be required as young people move through adolescence with support for transitioning youth to understand their life narrative and sense of identity. It may also be important to consider more community-based approaches to care where young people are brought up in family settings within local communities, including small family-like residential homes integrated into the community, non-relative foster family care and kinship care.

2) Provision of care-leaving services should be more fully and explicitly integrated into national child care and youth policy with clear routes to support for young people in transition and pathways from care that are well documented in administrative data and evaluated.

3) SOS CV provides extensive support to young people past the traditional care-leaving age of 18, up to and including tertiary university education. This is laudable and provides a solid foundation from which to launch into adulthood. However, some participants experienced a ‘delayed and abrupt’ transition (Stein, 2006) in which the termination of care was quite sudden and difficult. A more graded, negotiated, contracted and facilitated reduction of support will facilitate a smoother transition out of care towards independence. In additional to financial and practical support, some care-leavers need emotional support as they transition into adult life.

4) Facilitating diverse networks of relationships with people in various life domains outside of SOS CV will assist in building resilience and social capital for young people. These should include networks with same-culture communities, in which culture, religion and language can be fostered. This should include both bonding (meaningful, personal, supportive relationships) and bridging (information, assistance, brokering contacts) capital, as both are needed for successful transitioning into young adulthood. 

5) Female care-leavers have particular needs, including: navigating the more liberal gender roles learned in SOS CV and the (usually) more conservative gender roles practiced in the community; the challenges of developing self-sufficiency regarding finances, accommodation and employment; and the avoidance (it can be argued) of moving prematurely into marriage in order to address the lack of self-sufficiency and to satisfy cultural norms.

6) Male care-leavers also have particular needs, including avoiding engagement in drugs and crime; being exposed to positive male role models demonstrating more liberal gender roles; and being helped to navigate the more conservative gender roles practiced in the community.

7) Young people with disability have particular needs, including accurate diagnosis of their impairment as part of child developmental screening before, during and after placement; and targeted support that optimises social inclusion and enables them to reach their full potential. Increased and more extended support will often be required for care-leavers with disabilities, including greater attention to links with appropriate community supports. The establishment of networks of supportive relationships around a young person with disabilities in various life domains can assist in building resilience and reducing the negative impact of social stigma, exclusion and discrimination.

8) Investing in relationships with biological family (including extended family) is essential, throughout care, unless it compromises the wellbeing and development of the child. As young people leave care, they also require support to reintegrate and renegotiate their relationships with biological family members.

9) Young people in care should have the opportunity to engage with and learn about their biological family’s culture, language and faith throughout childhood, so that they can make their own choices about what they adopt and what they discard as they move towards adulthood.

10) The stigma associated with coming from care has an oppressive impact on the lives of young people leaving care leading to experiences of exclusion and discrimination in various settings which are further accentuated by inequalities linked to gender, culture and disability. SOS CV and other organisations caring for young people should seek to raise awareness of the rights of young people leaving care and actively challenge negative stereotypes in society.

11) Young people indicated that SOS CV could follow up how well they progress into adult life to demonstrate that former carers have ongoing care and concern for their welfare but also to monitor and evaluate the longer-term outcomes for young people post-care.

Links to reports

Please click on the links below to open the reports in a new window.

Main report. Kelly, B., Van Breda, A. D., Bekoe, J., Bukuluki, P. M., Chereni, A., Frimpong-Manso, K., Luwangula, R., Pinkerton, J., Ringson, J., & Santin, O. (2020). Building positive futures: A cross-country pilot study on youth transitions from out-of-home care in Africa. Belfast, Northern Ireland: Queen’s University Belfast.

Youth report. Kelly, B., Van Breda, A. D., Bekoe, J., Bukuluki, P. M., Chereni, A., Frimpong-Manso, K., Luwangula, R., Pinkerton, J., Ringson, J., & Santin, O. (2020). Building positive futures: A pilot study on leaving care in Africa: Youth report. Belfast, Northern Ireland: Queen’s University Belfast.

Peer research report. Kelly, B., Van Breda, A. D., Bekoe, J., Bukuluki, P. M., Chereni, A., Frimpong-Manso, K., Luwangula, R., Pinkerton, J., Ringson, J., & Santin, O. (2020). Building positive futures: Exploring a peer research approach to study leaving care in Africa. Belfast, Northern Ireland: Queen’s University Belfast.

Group photo at the project launch in Nairobi

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