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Coming of age on the streets: helping young people become independent adults

Freelance travel photographer

Retrak believes that no child or young person should be forced to live on the streets. We work to ensure they have the opportunity to choose a safe alternative. Some children have been living on the streets for several years and many are approaching adulthood. The experiences of these young people mean they are less likely to want or be able to return to their families or to find foster carers. Instead, they are coming of age on the streets, and Retrak’s research has shown that they are increasingly at risk.

Supported Independent Living is an alternative care option which Retrak is providing for such young people. Retrak’s Independent Living programmes strive to ensure that even older children can choose a life away from the streets which is rooted in a caring community. Over the last 10 years, Retrak has supported over 200 children into independent living in Ethiopia and Uganda. As with all our work, these programmes are constantly developing based on our experiences of what works and what does not. As part of a more deliberate and reflective process, Retrak has reviewed existing literature on the topic in order to gain new insights and as a first step towards developing standard operating procedures.

This literature review has revealed that there is very little evidence of good practice regarding Independent Living programmes for children on the streets. The review has therefore drawn on literature relating to care leavers experiences which are similar to their peers on the streets. This has highlighted the need for Independent Living programmes to include support with:

  • Building positive relationships with committed and trusted adults who can act as mentors,
  • Gaining education, skills and employment,
  • Obtaining housing, and having a place to return to in moments of crisis, and
  • Addressing stigma and prejudice in communities’ attitudes which can lead to young people being socially excluded.

Further research is needed to build up the evidence base around needs and experiences of young people separated from their family who are transitioning into independence. Retrak is following this literature review with further research conducted in Ethiopia which aims to improve our work in this area by listening to the voices of young people and their mentors.