According to the National Care Reform Strategy for Children in Kenya launched in June 2022, there are an estimated 45,000 children living in over 845 Charitable Children’s Institutions commonly known as children’s homes in Kenya. They often have to exit these institutions when they turn 18 and start living independently.
Having a place to call home, and social networks to protect them during difficult times, usually means built-in support for young people as they start out in life. But for some of the young people with no known kin, who’ve grown up in Charitable Children’s Institutions (CCIs) and other residential care settings, disadvantages multiply when they leave care and as they become adults. According to a study by SOS Children’s Villages International (Decent Work and Social Protection for Young People Leaving Care (2018), compared to their peers, these young people have no safety net to cushion them against socio-economic shocks.
Given the current economic challenges, a public conversation about social protection is long overdue. The drive to widen the national social protection program, Inua Jamii, is timely because it could shield more of the most marginalized people in our society from the worst effects of the downturn. However, the intervention currently focuses only on the elderly, orphans, vulnerable children and severely disabled people.
The targeting criteria currently excludes these extremely vulnerable young people. The age-normative approach, which only considers orphans and vulnerable children under the age of 18 is limiting; the age cut-off assumes vulnerability ends at the age of 18, or only applies to children. It ignores the myriad and well-known challenges that often last well beyond the age of 18 for young people leaving Charitable Children’s Institutions.
Countries that do not provide for vulnerable young people, who have recently left care, have experienced well-documented social problems. According to a United Nations Secretary General’s Global Study on Violence Against Children (2006), young people leaving care are likely to experience poor education outcomes, mental and psychological problems including stress and depression, are more likely than their peers to end up involved in crime, prostitution, or substance abuse, become homeless, or even end their own lives.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection has recognized the plight of these young people in their policies and guidelines, including the Strategy earlier mentioned. In 2019, the government of Kenya endorsed the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 74/133 which focused on children without parental care, committing to provide appropriate support to these young people. The next step is to move from simply recognizing these young people’s plight to a harmonized, practical intervention.
The good news is, there is some low-hanging fruit, which our government can use to rectify this situation. Existing structures and systems to support vulnerable young people are already in place. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection can expand and extend the Social Protection Program to target these vulnerable young people, support their well-being and help protect them from economic shocks. And the Ministry of Youth Affairs, Sports and The Arts can ensure these young people are prioritized in recruitment to the National Youth Service to ensure they learn valuable skills for the job market and become citizens who meaningfully contribute to our society.
Hope and Homes for Children- Regional Advocacy Manager