In the social and alternative care sectors, there’s nothing quite as powerful as the perspective of someone who’s been there.
Over the past two years, our partner in India, Udayan Care, has underscored this by welcoming six young individuals with lived experiences of care to their fold—in roles ranging from trainees and interns to social workers. This decision isn’t merely tokenistic; it’s strategic and meaningful. By doing so, Udayan Care ensures that their work, programmes, and support mechanisms for children, young people, families and communities are steered by those who know the journey firsthand.
This proactive approach aligns with global trends, and Udayan Care has learned from listening to and interacting with people with lived experience of care from around the world. They’ve also embraced insights from the Biennial International Conference on Alternative Care for Children in Asia (BICON), which urged organisations to include the perspectives and expertise of people with lived experience within their work.
In commemoration of Care Leavers’ Week 2023, we hear from each young person working with Udayan Care about their roles, journeys, and the life chapters that inspired them to work in the social care sector.
Raja, a young social worker, works in the community supporting family-strengthening initiatives to prevent children from being separated from their parents and family breakdown.
He grew up living in Child Care Institutions (CCI) and often witnessed random people helping children who had been separated from their families due to various circumstances. Raja developed a sense of empathy and a desire to help others experiencing similar situations. His current role is major a tick on his bucket list. The aspect of his work that he finds most challenging is observing the conditions many families face when they do not have a sufficient source of livelihood and depend on immediate intervention.
Due to growing up in a similar situation, he is able to connect well with the community members going through these hardships. As a social worker, he says, “More youth with lived experience of care must join the social workforce sector to address the disparities and vulnerabilities to work on solutions”.
Mausumi is a care-experienced young individual from Guwahati, Assam, where she earned her degree from Guwahati University. She currently holds the position of Senior Program Coordinator at Udayan Care in Delhi and serves as the Chairperson of the Assam Care Leavers Association (ACLA). Since joining the Care Leavers Network, Mausumi has felt an increasing sense of strength and unity. The close-knit bond within the group and her ability to positively impact their lives have bolstered her courage. Driven by her personal experiences, she is determined to support fellow young people with lived experience, hoping they can circumvent some hurdles she faced.
Mausumi reflects, “Flying is a burden. Even if you have to fall sometimes, dreams have to be fulfilled even if you have to fight with yourself.”
Sohail grew up in a CCI after being separated from his family due to an economic crisis. When the family was at their lowest point of dealing with the crisis, Sohail, still a young person, started thinking about ways to strengthen and support his family and started looking for a job in the social workforce.
He joined Udayan Care and works at the community level to strengthen families, ensuring children aren’t unnecessarily separated from their parents as he was. In his role, he’s encountered resistance from time to time from families to embrace change. With time, though, Sohail drew on his past experience to adapt his approach as a social worker to connect more with the families and deepen trust. As of today, whenever Sohail enrols children from the community in vocational training or courses, he thinks back to the time when he received the same kind of support.
As a social worker, he strongly believes in the mantra, “Making one change in yourself will change the perception of the next youth to give back to society”.
Surja entered a CCI at the age of 12 and felt she was supported to grow in confidence, language proficiency, and understanding of life. Even through ups and downs, Surja was grateful for the wonderful guidance and support of her mentor at the CCI. She followed her heart and faced challenges to become independent and work towards a secure future. During the time when Surja struggled with school admission due to lack of documents and being labelled an orphan, she was supported by a journalist and her CCI mentors, which invoked a sense of supporting people who struggle to achieve their dreams due to lack of guidance or support. It also demonstrated the necessity for care experienced young people to have access to guidance and advocacy.
Surja says, “Even with challenges, one must learn to voice out and tap in the concerned authorities and stakeholders who could help improve the situation of the care experienced youth”.
Dany spent 18 years in a Child Care Institute (CCI), where she received support, ensuring a secure childhood and quality education. She observed dedicated social workers who tirelessly supported her and her peers throughout her years there. Profoundly influenced by their passion, she considers them her mentors. Their dedication inspired Dany to become an advocate for fellow care leavers, understanding the vital importance of emotional support, especially as she faced challenges in this area after leaving care.
Currently, Dany serves as a Program Coordinator for the Aftercare Outreach Program at Udayan Care, where she empowers the youth, helping them navigate their unique challenges. She believes that while everyone faces trials, the intensity differs for those with care experience. Dany often remarks, “If I could compare myself to anything, it would be a seed. Grow wherever you are.”
Mohsin entered the social workforce motivated to give back to society and implement change after growing up in care.
Today he is proud to be part of an organisation where he works with children in and transitioning out of alternative care and offers psychological support to youth. He prioritises raising awareness within families that need family strengthening through legal and social support.
Growing up in a CCI, he often felt alone, unheard, and left out of the community. As a social worker, he strives to create a safe space where the children he supports can honestly share their feelings and empower them to use their voices. As a care leaver, he can visualise a bright future for the young people he’s supporting. Furthermore, as laws are amended and schemes and programs are improved, life for care leavers is slowly but steadily improving.
Mohsin shares that social work is very important, especially for the child who is growing up in an institution. “Every decision a social worker makes must be in the interest of the child because I think the future of every child largely depends on the ability of a social worker. Their efforts and decisions can make the child’s life bright”.