Care Leavers, or youngsters who leave Children Homes (CH), Child Care Institutions (CCI) or orphanages after turning 18 years, have been fighting to survive the last 78 days since the lockdown came into force. Unlike others, these youngsters do not have an ideal family to fall back on during such crucial times, when they have lost their jobs, have monthly rent to pay for shared apartments, purchase essential items, and also manage their mental health.
Once they complete 18 years of age, young adults in orphanages and CHs have to leave the institution and fetch for themselves. Hence, they are called Care Leavers. These young adults make their way by taking up small jobs to gain a source of income. Some of them find it tough to get high paying jobs due to lack of educational qualification and work experience. So, they end up working in food delivery, outdoor sales, field work, event management, or as assistants and technicians.
Using this income, they look for a place in shared apartments or After Care hostels, where they pay basic monthly rent. In order to secure better jobs, some of them pursue part-time educational courses to upgrade their profile. Juggling between jobs, rent and education, these youth find ways to get basic documents, like Aadhaar Card, Pan Card, Voter ID and bank accounts, in place.
Sachi Maniar, founder of Ashiyana Foundation that works for life skill development of Care Leavers, said, "As children, these youth were either orphaned, abandoned or from broken families. They have nowhere to go once they are out of child care institutions. They have to start their lives from scratch at 18 years. But we have to realise they have not had a privileged childhood or a normal societal upbringing. They have lived their entire lives in an institution. Now, suddenly, at 18, they are expected to fend for themselves. Some have faced adversities at an early age, while others have witnessed assault, so they need a lot of psychological, emotional and social support."
Due to the lockdown amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, these youngsters have lost their jobs. Some have been forced to move out of shared apartments because they do not have resources to pay the rent. Mayuri Joshi, a social leader supporting Care Leavers, said, "I have accommodated five youngsters, three girls and two boys, in my house in Pune. These youngsters lost their jobs when the lockdown was imposed and were compelled to move out of their apartments. They had nowhere to go, so I opened my doors to give them shelter." Joshi is herself a Care Leaver who now works for children through Miracle Foundation.
Aditya Charegaonkar, a PhD scholar at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, has started a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to provide groceries, medical aid, shelter and basic necessities to Care Leavers during the lockdown. Charegaonkar said, "Through my network, I am trying to help youngsters who do not have any source of income. We are paying for their grocery and medicine bills via online payment once they share an image of the bill and a photo of them at home along with their supplies. Also, we are working on ways to help them cope up with mental health issues, stress and skill development."
Charegaonkar adds that the government has not declared relief measures for Care Leavers amidst the pandemic. Charegaonkar has set up the Youth Care leavers Association (YCLA) known as Ekla, a project of Spherule foundation, to support youth. There are over 50,000 Care Leavers in Maharashtra, out of which 750 are within the network of YCLA. Anyone wishes to donate, support or provide any help in skill development or psychosocial scaling can contact fundraiser.fundcorps.com/eklacovid/adityacharegaonkar.