GLOBAL – December 21 2020 Care leavers speak up at the International Care Leavers Convention By Amelia Andrews Care leavers from countries all over the world came together to talk about their lives with others who have lived through similar experiences, finding camaraderie across borders and time zones. Care leavers from different countries and continents around the world came together to talk about their lives with others who have lived through similar experiences, finding resonance, camaraderie and friendships across borders and time zones. Some were fiercely vocal, while others were just happy to belong to the care leaver community, however all of them were united by their shared experiences and the desire to bring about change. The International Care Leavers Convention (ICLC), held from November 23-25, 2020, had given care leavers 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 decided upon eight top priorities, which they presented to government representatives, policymakers, practitioners and child rights experts on December 11, 2020. Policymakers from nine countries across Asia, Africa and Europe responded to the care leavers’ asks. The care leavers spoke about what affects them, as well as the resources and support they need to transition successfully into leading independent lives. The goal is to bring about change at local, national, regional and global levels to transform 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 highlighted the experiences and challenges that one faces at 18. They talked about how a care leaver is not mentally or 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, including financial support, counseling and other methods as deemed necessary to become 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 recognized. 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 asked, "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. Many come from broken families and have lived 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 disorder and even suicidal tendencies. Their problems intensify in adulthood due to a lack of adequate knowledge and care, which affects the abilities of care leavers to learn how 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." - Ruth Wacuca, Kenya Society of Care Leavers Other topics brought up by the care leavers included: Building an international network for care leavers Organizing the next International Care Leavers Convention in 2022 Need for proactive approach to mitigating the challenges faced by care leavers Implementation of policies as a key focus Need for more caring and understanding of 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, a member of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), appreciated the submissions by care leavers and committed himself to becoming 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. It is a significant beginning, however the real work is yet to be done. The good news is that the care leavers themselves are providing the direction. SOS Children’s Villages and other supportive organizations are gearing up to support them in every way possible. The International Care Leavers’ Convention was held from November 23-25, 2020. The Convention was organized 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.