Co-trainers Kruno Topoloski and Martina Gracic
Leaving care – March 5 2018

Young experts help train care professionals

When it comes to helping young people make the best transition from alternative care to the real world, Martina Gracic has some important first-hand knowledge to share.

Fortunately for Martina, 18, her experience of leaving the SOS Children’s Village in Lekenik, Croatia was a positive one. She is now getting ready to move into the student dormitory at the University of Zagreb with hopes of one day becoming a speech therapist.

But Martina knows from her peers that moving on from alternative care is not always easy.

For that reason, Martina is one of a number of youth co-trainers who are sharing their perspectives with care professionals in workshops around Europe. Speaking alongside professional trainers, Martina participated in a “Prepare for Leaving Care” workshop in Zagreb in February, which had been organised by SOS Children’s Villages Croatia. There, she explained how important it is that care workers help build self-confidence, give direction and support young people in following their dreams.

“It’s important for the professionals who work with young people to know that they have to give them opportunities to be heard and to give them a say in decisions that will affect the direction of their lives,” says Martina.

A new curriculum on leaving care
Empowering young people to participate in the decision-making process, as well as the need for long-term personal mentors and access to services, are  among the key principles outlined in the “Prepare for Leaving Care” curriculum.  

Co-funded by a grant from the European Commission, the comprehensive curriculum and training materials were developed by SOS Children’s Villages International and the Centre for Excellence for Looked after Children in Scotland, or CELCIS. Such  training material is essential as evidence shows that the issue of leaving care has been neglected or under prioritised in some countries, according to a recent SOS Children’s Villages International study. This can lead to poor outcomes for young people leaving alternative care – a group that is more prone to experiencing homelessness, poverty, and teen pregnancy than their peers.
Care professionals at the Zagreb training
Care professionals at the Leaving Care training in Zagreb

The recent workshops in Croatia, which were attended by around 80 care professionals from various state and non-profit institutions, were among the first to be held in five European pilot countries: Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Italy and Spain. Preparations are underway to roll out the training in more European countries in 2018 and parts of East Africa in 2019.

Toni Maglica, one of two professional trainers in Zagreb, says a highlight of the curriculum is its emphasis on building and maintaining relationships with young people after they leave care. “These young people had to disconnect their relationships when entering alternative care and had to build them up again,” he says.

“When leaving care, they say to us that they feel it’s like they are being abandoned again. They need these caring relationships of personal mentors and other professionals to support them through the process.”

It is also important to remember that leaving care should be “a process, not a moment”, says trainer Sunčana Kusturin. It should start two years before and last at least two years after, with support services being available longer, she adds.

‘They are our heroes’
Kruno Topoloski, who grew up from the age of six in a state-run children’s home, also emphasised to the care professionals the importance of having them as mentors.

“They are our heroes,” says Kruno, who recalls important role models who helped make his own transition from an institution to university a positive experience. “We didn’t have heroes in our parents, so they are the people we look up to.”

Many of the care professionals said they appreciated the unique perspective that Kruno and Martina brought into the training. “I see young people as my partners. I don’t see it as ‘us and them,’” says Daniela Vukelja, who heads a youth community living centre in Pula, Croatia. “We build something new together and the insights from (Kruno and Martina) were very valid.”

As for being their heroes, “I like to hear that,” Daniela says. “I don’t know if I’m a hero. For me, they are the heroes.”

Learn more about 'Prepare for Leaving Care'