In June 2018, “Hope For Children” CRC Policy Center with dedicated and experienced partners, CESIE (IT), CEPS (ES), Smile of the Child (GR), MMC (CY) and ADCdP, Division M (PT) embarked on a journey to design an integrative and participatory child-friendly framework to support young care leavers entering into autonomous living. The European project, INTEGRA has set a clear goal to enhance the entrepreneurship of children in care by developing a multidisciplinary mentoring programme to complement the existing state care services targeting directly residential care professionals.
As a foundation for the envisioned goals, the INTEGRA team has conducted ethnographic research in all INTEGRA partner countries (Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain) which resulted in 5 comprehensive National Reports.
The reports evaluated the mechanisms and good practices of ageing out of care systems in each country, while a common perspective that was presented as an imperative need was the training of the care professionals working closely with children in care. The outcomes confirmed that if during the period of living in residential care, children are not prepared to independent living and introduced to real-life out-of-care experiences, then the transitioning period is devalued from its potential for social integration and psychological maturity. If pursuing a vocation, finding a job, going to school, identifying a project of interest, are not supported ahead of ageing out period this will be additionally weakening their autonomous status, endangering their opportunities in the legal job market and therefore possibly compromising a potential long-term integration into the host community.
Furthermore, the idea of a mentor as a point of reference, a guiding supportive and a safe attachment figure that has the knowledge and the abilities to guide and connect the care leavers towards an independent and active life was highlighted as a shared expressed need.
In Cyprus, the prognosis of turning 18 is not something that young care leavers are excited for as expressed in the Consultancy Groups held locally: “when I turned 16 I was happy, when I turned 17 I was happy, when I turned 18 I was not happy at all, I was afraid”. Their prospect and ability to forward project a positive future is being challenged in the absence of a holistic and participatory care and mentoring program.
The findings and conclusions of the national research were emphasized in the White Paper Ageing out of Care into Autonomous Living, which proposes a core of essential pillars for Autonomous Living, reflected from the expressed needs of children in care and care professionals. In the same time the White Paper is encouraging a complementary tailored approach in finding solutions or adapting trends when addressing needs that challenge a prosperous transition into adulthood.
By supporting and training caregivers to become Leaving Care Mentors/professionals equipped to offer tailored mentoring programs and engaging them in a multi-agency Collaboration Continuum Network, the final goal is to build and support a reliable Platform4Cooperation to connect state parents, care leavers and relevant care and post care stakeholders.
To create a Platform for Cooperation that will link the target groups with all interested stakeholders engaged either in the care system or post care framework, the INTEGRA team consulted local experts and relevant stakeholders on its design and functionality. Encouraged to create a system of reciprocal support and responsibility to ease the ageing out process, the local stakeholders will join the INTEGRA network by signing a personalised Protocol of Cooperation.
Halfway through the project, in June 2019, the INTEGRA team met in Portugal Coimbra for the 3rd partnership meeting to crystallise the development of assessment tools and the Mentoring Integration Programme that are scheduled to be published after September 2019. These tools aim to equip caregivers as Leaving Care Mentors and ultimately contribute to the enhancement of residential care good practices and standards at EU level.
The INTEGRA initiative is aligned with the first Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers to member States on supporting young refugees in transition to adulthood (issued on 24 April 2019) that asks for member countries to ensure that young refugees receive additional support even after the age of 18 and to enable them to access their rights.
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