Zimbabwe is a country in sub-Saharan Africa that is facing a series of socio-political and economic crises since the early 2000s, with its peak in 2008. Recent statistics showcase that in 2017, 70% of the country’s total population was described as poor .
The country’s situation, as expected, is taking a toll on its youth. The situation is particularly difficult for those who grew up in alternative care settings, separated from their biological families, in institutional or residential care.
Care leavers, as they are formally known, are young adults who spent time in care outside of their extended family as children. Care settings vary and can be provided by the state (mainly through social service), non-governmental organizations or the private sector.
Care leavers are considered vulnerable for facing a triple burden: being separated from their biological families (for reasons that include abuse, neglect, abandonment and/or orphanhood); being stigmatised due to their care histories and lagging behind on several indicators such as education and employment . Young people coming from this background are far more likely to be homeless than their peers without care history.
Children without parental care remain a serious child protection and human capital concern in Zimbabwe. However, there are no reliable estimates of their actual numbers, particularly those in alternative care. Although reliable and updated information is essential for policy development, the most recent data on children in residential care in Zimbabwe dates back to 2006 . What is readily available are small scale qualitative studies which shed light on the lived experience of children in residential care. There remains a gap in quantitative studies showing estimates of numbers of children in alternative care, care leavers and their outcomes compared to other children and youth groups.
Current situation of care leavers in Zimbabwe
In general, care leavers in sub-Saharan Africa far worse than their counterparts in the Global North because of the absence of clear policies for their support and care. Social Protection, despite being one of the key programs under Social Welfare in the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, receives an equivalent of 0.2% of the total government budget .
Such a small budget for all social protection programmes clearly indicates that the needs of vulnerable groups are not covered. Within this budget, care leavers are currently not considered as direct beneficiaries of social protection programmes.
Under the social protection budget there is the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM), started in 2002. BEAM provides access to education for orphans and vulnerable children through subsidies for school fees. With the rising poverty rates and numbers of vulnerable children in the country, this safety net is failing to live up to its objectives .
The Assisted Medical Treatment Order (AMTO) is another ongoing programme, aimed at assisting orphans, vulnerable children and elderly persons to receive access to health care by subsidizing consultation, analysis and medication fees. However, since the decline of the country’s health system, vulnerable groups are being forced to cover their health treatment costs.
Although there are no sufficient studies with a comprehensive analysis of the social benefits delivery, it is clear that once discharged from care facilities at age 18, care leavers immediately lose all forms of government support, including the aforementioned BEAM and AMTO. Currently, there is no social protection mechanism that directly supports care leavers.
There has been an effort to improve advocacy for care leavers in Zimbabwe - for instance, the Zimbabwean Care Leavers’ Network ZIMCLANT, formed by a group of care leavers. The network has been lobbying with the government for the establishment of an aftercare fund, which will be directed specifically at youths leaving residential facilities as outlined in the UN Guidelines for Alternative Care . Article 130 of the Guidelines clearly states that:
Agencies and facilities should have a clear policy and carry out agreed procedures relating to the planned and unplanned conclusion of their work with children to ensure appropriate aftercare and/or follow-up. Throughout the period of care, they should systematically aim at preparing the child to assume self-reliance and to integrate fully in the community, notably through the acquisition of social and life skills, which are fostered by participation in the life of the local community.
Procedures for aftercare are lacking at the moment, leaving care leavers stranded and more vulnerable than they were before entering residential care facilities. The work being done by the ZIMCLANT is very important, but they are in need of funding to carry out their activities. As a network of care leavers, the members understand the impact of leaving residential care without any support and their efforts are aimed at ensuring that those who follow after them will not experience the same hardships that they encountered and even after years of leaving care.
A fund for care leavers would improve their access to education, accommodation, health facilities and other basic needs which are cut off the moment they are 18 years old and discharged from the facilities. In order for this fund to function effectively, there needs to be a clear targeting procedure in partnership with the residential facilities. However, as the economic situation in the country worsens, the only possibility to achieve this may be donor funding.
It is also hoped that more can be done to raise awareness about care leavers as a vulnerable group of youths in Zimbabwe.
- Trading Economics (2017) Zimbabwe Poverty Headcount Ratio at National Poverty Line. Access here.
- Mendes, P. (2009). Mentoring for care leavers: A critical review of the literature. Developing Practice: The Child, Youth and Family Work Journal, (23), 36. Access here.
- Petrowski, N., Cappa, C., & Gross, P. (2017). Estimating the number of children in formal alternative care: Challenges and results. Child abuse & neglect, 70, 388-398. Access here.
- Unicef (2017). Zimbabwe Social Protection 2017 Budget Brief. Access here.
- Muchacha, M., Dziro, C., & Mtetwa, E. (2016). The implications of neoliberalism for the care of orphans in Zimbabwe: Challenges and opportunities for social work practice. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 28(2), 84. Access here.
- United Nations General Assembly. (2009). Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children. Resolution A/RES/64/142. Access here.