19 October 2016

Leaving Care and Employment in Five European Countries: An Undocumented Problem?

SOS Children’s Villages International publishes research report examining the critical employment situation for young people leaving care in five European countries

Key stakeholders discussed the situation of employability and employment of young people leaving care at a seminar organised by SOS Children's Villages in October. Photographer: SOS Archives

Finding work is a challenging task for young people in Europe. About 4.5 million young people in the EU are out of work. Young people leaving care are particularly vulnerable when trying to transition into independence. Yet there is little research documenting their situation. SOS Children’s Villages is putting young care leavers at the centre of discussions, calling for better documentation and support systems.

Children and youth in care are an often overlooked group, neglected in data collection and not a priority concern for lawmakers. This also holds true for care leavers. Previous research conducted by SOS Children’s Villages highlights that care leavers face a variety of personal, social, legal and administrative challenges when accessing education and training opportunities and entering the job market.   
 
To gain deeper insight into these challenges, SOS Children’s Villages commissioned a research report to examine the situation in five European countries – Austria, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, and Norway.
 
Leaving Care and Employment in five European Countries: An Undocumented Problem?, written by Professor Claire Cameron from the Thomas Coram Research Unit of the Institute of Education at the University of London, is the first attempt at collecting quantitative data on the employment situation of young people with a care background. The report presents an important step in gaining greater understanding of the realities care leavers face and the developments needed to build systems that provide young care leavers with more comprehensive support and foster greater inclusion.  
 
The report was launched at the seminar “Supporting young people leaving care into employment: Key lessons from research and practice” on 11 October in Brussels, where key national and European stakeholders came together to discuss the employability situation for young people leaving care, existing policies and practices, and possible solutions.

Make young care leavers count

Findings of the report suggest that there is a need for disaggregated data on young people and employment, specifically for young people leaving care.
 
“There is a clear lack of data,” said Kélig Puyet, Head of Global Advocacy of SOS Children’s Villages, at the launch of the report in Brussels. “Those who are not counted, do not count. This is where we must start: we have to identify these young people as a group.”
 
Collecting such data would be a first step in an effort to analyse the particular situation young people face when leaving care. Being able to draw upon statistical data would provide a basis for the articulation of a cross-national definition of the term ‘care leaver’, within a rights framework.

Initiatives such as the European Commission’s Youth Guarantee have the potential of supporting young care leavers’ transition to independence. However, for this to happen, the initiative needs to be targeted, tailor-made to the specific needs of each individual, and be rooted in a holistic approach that supports each person – and try to reach also those young people who are most invisible, for example those who are not registered in the system.

Leaving care as a process

Eristjana, a young woman who grew up in the care of SOS Children’s Villages Albania, represented the voice of young people. She underscored that young people are struggling to find proper employment and housing and that they need support to be able to transition into independence.
 
Marginalisation, discrimination, social exclusion and sometimes racism are the main factors why care leavers are unemployed in her country, she said.  “The process of preparing to find employment must start when care begins, not when it ends”, she concluded.
 
This is also one of the main recommendations of the research report: leaving care should be seen as a holistic and gradual process and not an event. A range of different factors such as housing, education, employment, health, finance, and someone to rely on are part of this process and have to be taken into consideration to ensure that care leavers have equal access to employment and educational opportunities.

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