Kiran*was just 12 when her mother died. The tragic incident changed the trajectory of the young girl’s life. While she was still processing the grief of her mother’s loss, her father remarried, and soon, Kiran found herself at the receiving end of neglect, abuse, physical violence and brutality from both her parents. Very soon, she was thrown out of the house. If it weren’t for an NGO’s timely intervention, Kiran would have faced hunger, exploitation and worse on the streets of Delhi. The NGO directed her to a government children’s home in the capital.
For Kiran, the home offered a safe haven. She enrolled in an open school, continued her education and dreamt of becoming a professional chef. Unfortunately, fate dealt another blow. In 2020, when she turned 18, she was informed that she had to leave the Home. It felt like a second betrayal.
A second abandonment
Kiran’s story is not unique. The story of orphaned, abandoned or abused children doesn’t end at the Children’s Homes that take them in and give them food, shelter, warmth and protection. When they turn 18, they are forced to leave the places they have come to see as their second homes. What happens to these youngsters once they leave the homes? Where do they go? How do they survive?
Under Juvenile Law, children who exit Child Care Institutions (CCI) when they turn 18, must be supported towards independent living. However, the subject of ‘after care’ continues to be an unaddressed issue in the country, with very little data about these children’s struggles post-CCI residence.
A seminal research study was conducted by the Tata Trusts, Udyan Care and UNICEF, spanning five cities in India, titled ‘Beyond 18’, to address the lacunae in data. The study sought answers to how children fared once they were out of the alternative care system. The results were disturbing.
Every year, more than 25,000 adolescents in children’s homes across India are deemed adults when they complete 18 years of age. They are forced to fend for themselves, but 39 per cent of them do not find any shelter while 48 per cent have no source of earning. Moreover, the transition from a protective care facility to independent living comes with its own challenges, due to the absence of a family-like ecosystem, lack of understanding on continuum of care, minimal community integration, and limited ownership of essential resources at CCIs.
Kiran, for instance, was not sure where she could go — back to her parents? That meant further neglect, abuse, even exploitation. The streets? That was not safe for a young woman. A women’s shelter? That was a possibility, but there was only one aftercare home for women in Delhi and even that would be a stopgap arrangement. None of these options would let her continue her education to become independent and live with dignity. It was then that the Tata Trusts’ aftercare initiative came to her rescue.
Care – After Care
The Trusts’ Aftercare Outreach Programme (AOP) began in 2019 in partnership with Udyan Care to support young adults leaving the alternate care system, providing them with shelter, education, mentors, counselling, career counselling and peer group support. It was a logical spin-off of the ‘Beyond 18’ study, which had found that the children leaving care facilities had little to no self-confidence. They lacked basic life skills, their education was disrupted, and they had few job opportunities. Dreams and aspirations ended before they could even be formed. They were pushed into menial jobs and stigmatised by society. Worse, with no permanency in their lives, these youngsters underwent severe mental stress with no access to support services.
Based on the framework put forth by the ‘Beyond 18’ study, the AOP programme aims to provide guidance in eight domains of aftercare — educational and vocational skills; emotional well-being; independent living skills; physical health; interpersonal living skills and social support; financial independence and career; identity, and legal awareness and housing.
Additionally, the aftercare outreach aims to provide transition and rehabilitation support through skills training and development through workshops and mentoring; information, access and financial support for education and vocational training; internships, apprenticeships and placements to gain valuable job experience, and collectivisation through the Care Leavers Association and Network (CLAN).
A reason to hope
Through the AOP initiative, Kiran received psycho-social and career counselling, and attended skilling workshops. Her career plans were discussed in great detail, and various alternatives suggested. Based on her interests, she selected vocational training in cooking and baking. Kiran is now enrolled in a one-year course in Food Production at the Indian Hotel Academy in Delhi.
Alongside, an individual care plan was also developed – Kiran was assigned an individual ‘mentor mother’ to whom she can confide her fears and concerns. In the six months since, the mentor mother has been able to help Kiran overcome her emotional trauma and make a fresh start with strength and resilience. “I’m happy and thankful to be a part of the AOP family,” says Kiran, gratefully. “It is indeed a family for children and young people like us. We need an adult to guide us and my mentor has come to me like a gift from God. I see my mother figure in her and want to be like her one day,” she adds.
Kiran is now pursuing her diploma and is looking forward to the time she can be totally independent and find her own accommodation. With the help of AOP and her mentor mother, Kiran has found reasons to hope again.
*Name changed to protect identity