22 November 2017

Listening to and learning from the experience of young care leavers in Latin America

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Sisters Maria and Carmen (far left and second from the right) were reunited with their extended family as part of a pilot institution closure project in Panama, carried out by RELAF, our partners in Latin American and the Caribbean.

Hope and Homes for Children will listen to, learn from and support young people who are making the journey from institutions to independent living at a regional conference in Bolivia this week.

“Camino a la Autonomía” is the third congress of the Latin American Care Leavers Network, a group of organisations which work to support the journey of young people leaving institutional or alternative care into independent life and adulthood. Currently, the Network consists of 17 NGOs in 9 countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, México, Paraguay, Perú and Uruguay.

The congress will focus on the experiences and needs of young people in the region who are moving from orphanages and other institutions to live independently or in community-based care. Evidence shows that a result of developmental delays and institutional experiences, young people leaving institutional care are one of the most disadvantaged groups in society. They are more likely to have lower educational qualifications, become parents at a very young age, be homeless, experience higher levels of unemployment, engage in criminal behaviour, or develop mental health problems. The end of childhood is often artificially marked at the age of 18, which is also seen as the threshold to discontinue material support or benefits. This complicates the transition to adulthood of young care leavers and further enhances their vulnerability. HHC directly supports and advocates for the programmes to support care leavers and their transition towards independent living through adequate services and resources and Ensure the voice of care leavers is heard and their recommendations are used to inspire policy and practice.

Care leavers, NGOs and agencies will gather in Cochabamba, Bolivia to generate connections, share, learn and inspire each other on successful strategies from diverse child protection systems in Latin America. Our Regional Operations Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Victoria Martin, will give a presentation on Deinstitutionalisation at the two-day event in Cochabamba.

Since 2015, Hope and Homes for Children has been working with partners to reduce the reliance on children’s institutions across the region by strengthening families and developing family-based alternative care. Hope and Homes for Children and RELAF recently opened the Centro de Excelencia por la Niñez (CEN) or Centre of Excellence for Children. The Centre is a virtual resource, designed to provide training and support for capacity building and best practice in DeInstitutionalistion across Latin American and the Caribbean.

This summer, the CEN delivered its first face-to-face training for 70 child protection professionals in the region. Two training events were held in partnership with LUMOS, the international organization founded by J.K Rowling. The training took place in Panama City and Buenos Aires with participants from Guatemala, Colombia, Haiti, Panamá, México, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay learning about the process of moving children from institutions into family or community-based care, child participation, foster care and leaving care.

During a visit to London earlier this year to plan the training programme,  María Sánchez Brizuela, Co-ordinator of the Centre for Excellence, explained why the initiative is so important. “The Centre is about practical knowledge. We are focused on professionals and practitioners, not policymakers, not academics, not people in general”, she said.

“We are focused on that specific group of people who are involved in these changes and really need practical knowledge because in general, they understand what foster care is and that children need to live in families but not how to do it. We are there to give them the capacity and the practical knowledge to make it happen”, Maria added.

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