Members of a new association, Care Leaver Austria, are lobbying to see support last at least until 24, which is around the average age most Austrians leave their family’s home and begin to live independently.
“We want to have the same rights for care leavers as for any other teenagers who grew up with their families,” says Petra Gabler, president of Care Leaver Austria.
“For a care leaver, it’s very hard when you lose your home, and you lose contact with the people you trust and who have your back,” says Ms. Gabler, 25, who spent most of her childhood in foster care.
In Austria, young people leaving alternative care can request after-care support but it is not easy to get and often depends on the province where they live, Ms. Gabler explains. She is aware of stories of care leavers who struggled, ending up homeless and getting involved in drugs. “They really had a hard start in life. There was no transition,” she says.
Care Leaver Austria, which formed in November, is the one of a number of care leaver associations around the world advocating to improve the current care system and help those after they leave care. In Europe, there are associations in Germany, Romania and the UK; in Africa and Asia, associations exist in counties such as Kenya, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka.
Across Europe, care leavers have called for access to child protection and social services after their 18th birthday, as well as a right to ‘come back’ for support if and whenever needed. These are among a list of demands developed out of the EU-funded Leaving Care project, carried out in cooperation with SOS Children’s Villages and child care organizations FICE Austria and FONPC.
Beyond advocacy work, associations such as Care Leaver Austria link young people leaving care to resources and serve as a support network.
Fabienne Landerer, 23, another member of Care Leaver Austria, feels a sense of obligation to help those like herself. “Even though we are out of the system, we are not here [to say] that’s none of my business anymore. We are still here and we want the best for other care leavers,” says Ms. Landerer, a French and philosophy student at the University of Vienna.
Ms. Gabler says she was among the lucky ones. Once she left care at 18, her foster parents made sure she had a smooth transition to independence, helping her with a place to live and allowing her to come back home whenever she needed to.
Today, she has her own apartment and works as a purchaser for a technical company.
Surprisingly, Ms. Gabler says she never heard the term ‘care leaver’ until she participated as an adult in a few international projects where she met others trying to improve the transition from care to independence.
“For me it was important to know that word because I think we are stronger together,” she says. “Everyone has been fighting on their own and now we have the association (in Austria). … We want to let Austria know that we know what we want and we will fight for that.”