Care Leavers – December 21 2020 “Not defined by our circumstances”: Care Leavers speak up at the International Care Leavers Convention By Amelia Andrews Care leavers, from different continents and countries, came together to talk about their life with others who have lived through similar experiences finding resonance, camaraderie and friendships across borders and time zones. Some fiercely vocal, others happy to belong to the care leaver community but all united by their shared experiences and the desire to bring about a change. The International Care Leavers Convention (ICLC) held from November 23-25, 2020 had given them a platform to speak in a united voice. Together they came up with a list of 17 asks, ranging from individual growth to policy changes. In the end, they came up with eight top priorities, which they presented to government representatives, policymakers, practitioners, and child rights experts on December 11, 2020. Policymakers from nine countries from Asia, Africa and Europe responded to the care leavers’ asks. The care leavers spoke about what affects them, what resources and support they need to transition successfully into leading independent lives and for bringing about change at local, national, regional global levels transforming things for them and other care leavers. 25 is the new 18 “Being out of care at 18 is very challenging for us,” shared Sabiti Jack, one of the care leavers from Uganda. “As soon as one is out of care, there is no home, support or social network. There is no one to advise us.” The care leavers advocated strongly for increasing the age of leaving care. They put forth experiences and challenges that one faces at 18. They talked about how a care leaver is not mentally and emotionally ready to take on the responsibility of independent living, needing further assistance and support system. The care leavers asked for transitioning progressively into independent living rather than being pushed into it at the 18 years of age. They called it landing softly on earth from planet youth care. The principle of stage and not age found resonance with the care leavers. Scottish Through care and Aftercare Forum – STAF upholds this principle where the care leaver stays in positive care settings until they reach a stage where they feel confident they can transition to independent living. The care leavers also asked for continuing support in after care. This support includes financial support, counselling and any other support as deemed necessary to be a fully functioning independent adult. Nothing for us, without us “Who knows about care leavers? It is not a familiar term. However, care leavers are an important part of the society. They need to be seen and recognised. People need to know their struggles. The society needs to stop looking away from them, “ shared Fabienne Landerer from Care Leavers Association, Austria. The care leavers spoke emphatically about how they want to represent their issues. They said that how could somebody who had not lived their lives make decisions and policies that affects their lives. They called for being a part of all decision-making processes that involved their lives, including representing care leavers at the United Nations. Unseen wounds “Not all wounds are visible. Just because the wounds are not visible, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist.” Karishma Singh from Care Leavers Association and Network, India spoke about how children end up in alternative care. Coming from broken families, living through traumatic experiences such as violence and abandonment. As the children grow up, they bear invisible wounds from these experiences. They do not get an opportunity to address them as a result many care leavers struggle with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome even suicidal tendencies. Their problems intensify in adulthood due to lack of adequate knowledge and care affecting the abilities of care leavers to function independently. We (Care leavers) are not what we went through. We are how we came out of it—as a lioness, through the fire Other asks by the care leavers included: Building an international network for care leavers and organising the next International Care leavers Convention in 2022 Need for proactive approach to mitigate the challenges faced by care leavers. Implementation (of policies) is key. Need for caring and understanding care givers More participatory research on strengths, resilience and challenges How to influence policy change? Policymakers representing Bangladesh, Bhutan, Egypt, India, Italy, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Zimbabwe responded positively to the recommendations set forth by the care leavers. Dr Rinchen Chophel, Member, United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) appreciated the submissions by care leavers and committed himself to be an advocate for the recommendations of the ICLC in the UNCRC. He also promised to lobby with the member countries to mainstream the recommendations presented in the convention. This has been a significant beginning but the actual work has begun now. The good news is that the care leavers themselves are providing the direction. SOS Children’s Villages and other supportive organisations are gearing up to support them in all possible ways. The International Care Leavers’ Convention was held from 23 to 25 November, 2020. The Convention was organised by SOS Children’s Villages, Udayan Care, University of Hildesheim and Kinder Perspectief in association with technical partners such as UNICEF, FICE-International Federation of Educative Communities and Care leavers Networks.