ProSEED provides necessary support and opportunities to young people as they make the transition from Child and Youth Care Centres at 18. The intervention prepares young people for the transition of being cared for within the system, to being able to take the lead in their adult lives. We have chosen the name ProSEED to reflect the way in which we support young people in moving forward in their lives – we believe that they have all they need inside themselves to grow to their full potential.
Mamelani’s Youth programme was started in 2004 to provide support to youth transitioning from the Homestead Child and Youth Care Center (CYCC). At the time, when young people turned 18 and had to leave the Center, they had very little support as they transitioned back to community. Many of them did not have the skills or resources to cope with the reality they faced when they got back home, and sadly, after years of stability at the CYCC, they found themselves returning to a life on the street. Mamelani started this intervention in response to this situation – to prevent young people from returning to the street and to ensure that these young people had the support, opportunities and services available to them so that they did not fall through the cracks when they left state care.
Through trial and error, Mamelani developed an intervention in response to the needs of this group. In 2010, Mamelani was contracted by the Department of Social Development to run a pilot programme, applying the approach we had developed for working with young people in residential care to young people who have grown up in foster care. We ran an 18-month pilot for 10 young people who had grown up in foster care, as well as for 10 young people who had grown up in residential care.
Facilitating the pilot programme enabled us to gain experience in working with children who are living in foster care. It also gave us the opportunity to further develop our approach and see how it could be adapted to meet the needs of children and youth beyond the group we had worked with who had spent time living on the street. The pilot was the start of Mamelani’s journey in testing our approach to supporting youth in transition from care.
Over time, we realised that this was not a challenge faced by the Homestead CYCC alone. In 2012, we engaged with the Child and Youth Care sector more broadly to better understand the experiences of care leavers in the Province. What emerged from the research was that there was a high level of concern for this group and a strong need to close this gap in services. This process also pointed to some of the systemic issues that were barriers to making smooth transitions, including the institutional settings, as well as the fact that while placement at a residential facility is meant to be for up to 2 years, many young people found themselves in care until the age of 18. This was usually the case when the family issues that brought them into care in the first place had not been able to be resolved. The research pointed to the severity of some of the family issues, and the high caseload of designated social workers as contributing factors. The research highlighted that most youth transitioning from care did not feel prepared to leave care, and without support, the transition from the CYCC to the reality of life beyond care was wrought with challenges and fears. Aside from the challenges young people living in marginalised communities are faced with such as exposure to violence, lack of access to housing and employment, young people who have grown up in care face particular challenges. Many have lost parents to HIV, have been displaced from other countries or have been placed in care as a result of abuse/neglect in their homes. All these reasons point strongly to the need for increased support as they make this transition. International research outside South Africa indicates that of all the identifiable vulnerable groups in society, young people who have been in care are the most likely to experience poor outcomes in adult life. To read the Discussion Document that came out of the research process click here. Mamelani acknowledges our funders, the World Childhood Foundation and DG Murray Trust, who supported the compilation of this research.
Although the Children’s Act of South Africa calls on Child and Youth Care Centres (CYCCs) to offer transitional support to youth leaving care, at the time of doing the research, there were very few CYCCs that offered adequate preparation and very few who provided after-care services.
It was on this basis that we began to develop and implement an intervention that sought to change the long-term outcomes of young people transitioning from care, with a particular focus on what is required to support youth in transition in the South African context. We have worked for almost a decade on this issue with a particular focus on young people who have grown up in residential care.
Young people need intentional support to navigate transitions. Growing up in institutional care leaves many young people dependent on ‘the system’. We facilitate processes that engage young people – intentionally working ‘with them’ instead of doing things ‘for them’. We believe that young people need to learn the skills for coping as adults and be given the opportunity to experiment with these newly gained skills and ideas in real life situations. If mistakes are made, young people need to be supported in learning from these mistakes as part of moving forward. We believe this approach best equips youth with the skills to adapt to their new reality and take responsibility for their own journey.
We have seen that young people learn best through experiential processes, where there is an element of fun and risk-taking. Our approach is one that challenges young people to challenge themselves – to go beyond their comfort zones and to see from first hand experiences just how much they are capable of! Our work is based on positive youth development practices that focus on nurturing resilience, strengthening relationships and support networks and building a positive sense of self and identity.
What is unique about the way we work is that we prioritise a reflective practice where we consistently assess whether what we are doing – and how we are engaging – is having a meaningful impact on the lives of the young people that we work with. The youth development practice that we have adopted is strengths-based and works experientially with young people to enhance their gifts and build on their connections. Our practice is one that marks growth in the young people in ways that are meaningful to them and through ceremonies and rites of passage processes. The reflective practice we use has been fundamental to allow for responsiveness, creativity and innovation.
Leaving the CYCC at the age of 18 marks a significant transition in a young person’s life. We believe that young people move through many different transitions as they grow up and transition to adulthood. International Research shows that young people who have grown up in institutional care struggle later in life with a range of issues. Research also shows what kinds of interventions and supports enable young people who have grown up in care to overcome challenges and make a success of their adult lives. While youth can, and often do, make the best of difficult circumstances, their growth and development needs to be intentionally nurtured. We believe that interventions should provide young people with a safe space to make meaning of their lives, to build relationships and to reflect on themselves and the actions they take to become who they aspire to be.
Our intervention works directly with young people as they transition, as well as with key stakeholders such as the Department of Social Development and selected Child and Youth Care Centres. Our aim is to develop and strengthen transitional support services for youth who are in residential care. The programme looks at the issue of youth leaving care holistically, working systemically and not working only with young people in isolation, but also with the people and environments that support them.
The programme runs over a 3-year period, providing support in the last 18 months as they prepare to leave the Child and Youth Care Centre and on-going support for up to 18 months once they have returned to their community. This continued support has shown to be vital for their sustained growth, especially once they have moved on from the CYCCs.
The best way for us to show the impact of our work is through the voices of the participants we have worked with.
“I really didn’t think about having to leave the Homestead one day. I didn’t take it seriously until I realised that I had to leave. I realised that I needed help! I didn’t know where I was going to go and what I was going to do. Mamelani helped me. You see these guys at Mamelani are like brothers to me and I get to talk about things that one would expect from a family. Mamelani gives people hope and that is so important because people lose hope when they are not supported. It gives guys leaving the children’s home an opportunity of making something different of our lives and not having excuses.”
“What I enjoy the most is the people that I work with and the friendships that they have for me. I have learnt to cook and to make a lot of stuff. I have learnt that I can stand up for myself. I can be with people that I am not used to being with as equals and I can make friendships with them. The internship has given me more confidence and it has helped me to look after myself and my family. It has also improved my relationship with my family as I am able to contribute and my girlfriend’s parents respect me now and are always nice to me because I am working.”
“ProSEED is a powerful project that helped me and helps others who are part of the programme to grow and be responsible for our lives. With all their support, I am now responsible for my life. I thank ProSEED and Mamelani for making me who I am today.”
“I learnt that if you want to survive as a person, you need to believe in yourself.”
“Mamelani facilitators don’t push you to do what they want, but they give you space to make your own decisions. They respect you and the activities matter. I don’t feel like I have to jump through hoops and do things to get my needs met, I get the support that I need – by engaging in the programme I get what I need for my future.”
“Stepping out of our comfort zone made us to realise that we are bigger than what we think of ourselves. Being in the mountains allows one to be able to listen to their inner voice. While we were up there, we were asked to go and spend time alone. At first I was scared, but once I found my spot and sat down, I started to hear myself talking to myself and reflecting on what I’ve been going through during the year. A week before the camp I was told that this is my last year staying at the CYCC. I was scared and didn’t know what to do. When I went to the mountains I realised that there is a lot that I can do when I step out of this place.”
“Mamelani taught me that in life you cannot operate well on your own – you need people around you that can give you advice. You must take responsibility for your actions – for example, if you have done something wrong, you must solve it or try and ask for help if it is difficult to solve on your own. As people we have choices in life. Mamelani is preparing me in the future to be able to work with other people, to help other people, to work as a team, to give people advice and to motivate others.”
“It is nice to be in a place where it’s ok to fail. When I was at the children’s home we were taught to not mess up. Here I know that if I mess up I will still be supported and accepted.”
“Mamelani to me is like a home, a place that I can turn to for guidance and support. They have walked alongside me when I’ve had to make big changes in my life like changing schools, finding a new place to live and working for the first time. I don’t think that I would be who I am today if Mamelani didn’t exist.”
“It wasn’t easy for me to find work because I needed to speak to people that I don’t know and I felt stupid when other people just rejected me and didn’t have time to listen to me. But having the Mamelani guys walk alongside me I was able to learn from these experiences and gain the skills to deal with the challenges I was facing. The internship was a wake-up call for me. It was hard but I learnt a lot of things about myself and I believe it made me stronger.”
We work in a way that builds on existing strengths, re-connects young people to community, and encourages healthy inter-dependence. This focus allows for a positive sustainable shift in young person’s life on his/her journey into adulthood. Young people move through many transitions over this time. The programme focuses on helping young people navigate these changes from a place of strength. Experiential group sessions are designed to challenge young people to step out of their comfort zones and engage in the real world – to build the skills they will need for their adult lives.
In the individual work, young people are paired with a designated Mamelani facilitator for 18 months. There is a focus on pathway planning where we jointly identify strengths and talents, as well as potential areas for skills development and further training. This, along with experiential learning opportunities, exposes the young people to new experiences and helps the young person identify the area of development that they want to focus on.
In terms of work readiness, young people are given the opportunity to gain skills through a 3-6 month paid internship in their selected field. Facilitators encourage and support young people to write CVs and open bank accounts. Time is spent exploring and strengthening interview and job-seeking skills. An internship allows the young person to generate income, to strengthen his/her workplace skills, to gain experience in budgeting and managing money as well as an opportunity to build relationships with co-workers and, in these ways, to increase their confidence, their network of support and their readiness for the world of work.
Those who have already made the transition from care continue to receive support to secure accommodation and adjust to their new living environment. Young people often return to extended families or communities who cannot meet their basic needs, support their educational demands or provide them with stable accommodation. We therefore support young people in meeting these needs for the duration of their participation in the programme. Young people also access peer support as they connect with one another to share their experiences and challenges in relation to work, studies and adapting to life back home.
While education, accommodation, skills training and job placement are necessary for the successful transition into adulthood, ensuring that the young person has the resilience and internal resources to make the best of these opportunities is an equally important aspect of the work we do.
One of the most powerful impacts of the programme is when young people who have grown up in care, after graduating from the programme, become positive role models to those preparing to leave care – giving them hope that they too can reach their dreams.
Since 2013, we have been working with staff from Child and youth Care Centres in strengthening the transitional support services that they provide to the young people in their care. This process is facilitated in partnership with selected CYCCs and the Western Cape Department of Social Development.
Child and youth care workers from selected CYCCs participate in a learning process that strengthens their youth development practice and explores how to better prepare young people for the transition from care. A Mamelani facilitator works with a core team from each CYCC to assist them with creating a vision for their Centre. The facilitator also shares Mamelani’s approach, lessons learnt and other resources to support them in implementing the necessary shifts that are identified. A Director’s Forum is also established to ensure that the leadership of the Centers are supported to create space for these interventions to grow.
Since 2013, we have worked with over 30 Child and Youth Care Workers and Social Workers from 5 CYCCs and in 2016 we extended the programme to reach another 3 CYCCs and one organisation that runs cluster foster homes.
Through this intervention, we have provided a peer learning space where Child and Youth Care Workers and Social Workers gather and learn from each other’s experiences. The learning sessions are experiential and offer participants a chance to experience Mamelani’s approach first-hand. Participants are also provided with the space to reflect on the barriers – both personal and organisational – to shifting practices for working with differently with young people. Mamelani designs and implements workshops to provide a space where staff can explore and experiment with these new ways of thinking about youth development and transitions. The topics covered include the nature of transitions; the components of transitional support programmes; strengthening youth development practice; understanding adolescent development, tools for teaching independent living skills, a cultural approach to transitions and how to use storytelling as a tool for change. Child and Youth Care Workers and Social Workers have shared that the process has been inspiring and supportive and has enabled them to develop new practices for working with youth in transition.
The impact of this intervention is best expressed in the voices of the Directors, Managers, Social Workers and Child and Youth Care workers who participated in the process:
“I think for me the process has been a mind shift in how I engage young people. I’ve become curious about my heritage and culture and it has made me ask myself questions I never did before. The word that stands out for me in this process is “intention” – how to do what I do with intention.”
“We know that we can’t continue doing things the way we do, our research has shown us that we need to do less caring and protecting and allow youth more responsibility, and for that to happen we need to be together as a team. We know what we need to do, we are like a ship that needs to just sail but has been stuck in the harbour for too long. I think we are ready to sail off.”
“Through the process, staff have had their minds and eyes opened to what we need to do for our kids. I’ve seen us stop the ‘doing’ and take on a more supportive role, letting our girls make more of their own decisions. We’ve realised that our job is to help our girls reach their full potential- whatever that may mean for each individual.”
“Mamelani moved our focus from what is needed to how it needs to be done. Our youth now see the value in transitional plans and can see what’s in it for them – so they’re buying in, participating and actively engaging with us as to their future plans.”
“Mamelani’s active presence through this process helped me keep the conversation going, even when it got tough. This was a good thing for us – it made us think about our children differently. We now know that transition isn’t just the process of a child saying goodbye and physically exiting, but is actually a challenging journey.”
“This has changed my view of youth practice and I’m now able to see things from the youth’s perspective and not only my own.”
“I’ve always been young at heart but this programme taught me that today’s youth think differently about issues than we did.”
“I can see that this process was facilitated with the same principles that are needed to working with young people – you have allowed us to experience things for ourselves and then reflect on it; you have taken us on a personal journey into our past that has allowed us to understand our history and ourselves better.”
“Our practice and approach to young people has shifted because we were part of a shared journey, which wasn’t just a training course about youth development but also a personal journey of discovery into ourselves.”
“I never really thought about how I am using my power with the young people and how sometimes that my power over them is preventing them from developing the skills they need in adulthood.”
“Understanding their background is so important for transitioning because when they leave the centre they come back to these questions – so I think you are right we need to be more intentional about exploring these things with the young people.”
“I feel connected to this group even though we see each other at other forums, we have created a special bond here and I hope that we will continue to grow what we have built amongst each other.”
“This is a great opportunity for us to really see and understand each other, because we never have the time or opportunity to reflect in this way.”
“Being able to reflect on our stories brings healing and hope, it makes one see the importance of witnessing the stories of each other as a team and our youth.”
“This process has given me courage to continue, knowing that I was instinctively on the right track.”
“We acknowledge that we are in a completely different place to where we were in the beginning of the process. Change is difficult but is needed and we cannot expect change if we are not willing to look at ourselves first. I feel that the Mamelani process has left me with no place to hide. I needed to take a good look at myself and face up to the things in me that need to change. Relationships are better between us and we are talking more about the youth than each other in our meetings. We are more one now.”
In 2015 Mamelani developed a resource that outlines the different components that we believe are necessary for effective transitional support interventions, including practices and activities that support youth as they transition. This resource includes a section on the supportive practices within organisations that enable the development of youth-focussed programmes. Mamelani compiled the content in partnership with the first group of CYCCs that we worked with. Our intention is to continue to develop these kinds of resources, in partnership with organisations and to share them with child and youth care workers and institutions beyond this group. To download the 1st edition, click here.
Mamelani has chosen to engage at a policy level, seeking to influence and strengthen legislation relating to youth in transition from Alternative Care. In September 2015, we made a submission to Parliament as part of the Children’s Act Amendments process. We were excited to see that the points that we raised had been acknowledged and supported, particularly regarding the extension of a young person’s stay in care be made possible, should they be completing an internship or learnership. Other issues we raised were noted for discussion in the next round of Amendments, particularly those regarding the provision of aftercare services and the proposal that minimum standards be introduced to guide Child and Youth Care Centres regarding what they need to put in place, along with the support for skills development and resources for more effective transitional support interventions. Mamelani is committed to engaging in the policy-making process in the hope that the resulting legislation will improve the way in which the Child and Youth Care sector and other key stakeholders are able to support youth in transition.
Given that our initial work was with youth who had lived on the street, one of our strongest indicators related to the number of young people who returned to life on the street once they had left care. During the early years of the programme, while it was still being developed, these numbers remained too high. Between 2010 and 2012, the number of youth returning to the street was reduced to 10% and between 2013 and 2017, none of the youth who left care over this period had returned to the street.
Since 2013, we have facilitated our new approach for 50 young people. Experiential learning activities and mentoring sessions were provided and have resulted in young people with:
All of the 5 CYCCs who were part of the 1st round of the CYCC Capacity Building process reported having a better understanding of what is required to support youth as they transition from care. Work teams were established in each CYCC to develop tailored interventions to improve transitional support in each Center.
The kinds of interventions differed from Center to Center depending on their unique context and capacity to implement changes. Three Centres explored how transitional support processes could form part of the daily life of the Centre to varying degrees. The work that is happening at Lawrence House, is a strong example of the way in which working with transitions is becoming part of the daily life of the Centre. click here to read more about Lawrence House’s work with transitions. St Georges Home for Girls set up an independent living unit for young women and the Homestead turned their intake shelter into a Transitional Support Centre for young people above the age of 16. Click here to read more about the Homestead’s LaunchPad.