Don't turn them out at 18

THERE is no study at the national level on the plight of youths who are asked to leave shelter homes after turning 18. Because of this, the public and concerned authorities are not in the know of how the youths coped with life after leaving the comfort and security of shelter homes.

Universiti Malaya (UM) Social Administration and Justice Department Assoc Prof Dr Siti Hajar Abu Bakar, who is an expert in social welfare issues, suggested that these youths must be provided with housing and supervised for at least five years after they leave the shelter.

Employers in service sectors, she said, should also give them priority and coach the dropouts until they complete their studies.

She added that those from shelter homes normally needed longer attention as some of them suffered from some form of mental or physical disabilities due to abuse from their families before they were sent to the shelter homes.

“Most of them live in shelter homes because of their background. Most of them do not complete their studies, they need help or they will not be able to secure a better future for themselves.”

Prof Siti Hajar was responding to StarMetro’s report on the plight of youths after leaving shelter homes. It stated that some lucky ones did well for themselves while others went astray and got involved in social problems.

She added that StarMetro could be the first to raise the issue in the country.

“In US, UK and several Scandinavian countries, Group Homes are provided for such youths where they are provided with essentials such as food and supervised apartments at subsidised rates.

“They have youth transition centres within the community. This is different from halfway homes for former prisoners,” she said.

“I have not come across such benefits for this group in Malaysia. Social inclusive activities should be carried out for them. Include them in the employment sector by giving them priority because they are vulnerable.

“There should be youth-building and development programmes for them,” she added.

Prof Siti Hajar also called for the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry to extend the age limit at shelter homes to 21, especially for those with medical issues and those attending college or vocational studies.

She said including some of the ideas as policies would provide long-term positive results.

The foster care system, she added, should also be reviewed, including training caregivers.

“In some countries, the caregivers are required to be trained and have at least a diploma in child nursing and development, have skills in management and draw a care plan for the children under their watch.

“We have to re-examine the existing care manager modules,” said Prof Siti Hajar, who created a holistic foster care module called Model Penjagaan Samara under UM’s Social Administration and Justice Department.

University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration’s Prof Mark Courtney said both US and Malaysia differed in their findings on those who left shelter homes due to economic development, the kinds of substitute care provided, and the respective welfare states.

Based on his research in the US, his findings provided sobering evidence of poor outcome in education, employment, economic hardship, health, and criminal justice system involvement.

“My research also shows that allowing youths to remain in care into early adulthood, to age 21, results in improved educational attainment and earnings from employment, reductions in early pregnancy, homelessness and crime.

“In other words, providing for youths’ basic necessities and ongoing professional support significantly improves their outcomes,” said Courtney whose current work included studies of the adult functioning of former foster children and experimental evaluation of independent living services for foster youth.

He said his research was used by advocates to push for policies extending substitute care into early adulthood.

It was also used to encourage institutions of higher education, employment training and support, and mental health systems to coordinate with the child welfare system to support such youths.

He added the youths from the foster care system needed the same kind of support that middle and upper class families provided for their young adult children.