Monday, March 28, 2011

In the Field: Understanding the Extreme Vulnerability of Youth Leaving Orphanages in Cambodia

In their words: Youth describe their transition from orphanage care

IOFA determined last summer that youth still in orphanage care in and around Phnom Penh, Cambodia presented “risk factors” that suggested they would be vulnerable to exploitation, violence, drug use, and other dangerous trajectories upon their exit from care. This March, we returned to Cambodia to find youth and young adults who had already left orphanage care. We aimed to learn about their experiences and begin to understand general trajectories for care leavers, to determine whether they are indeed vulnerable, and if so, what kinds of services might support them.
The following series of blog entries will describe trends we observed among youth who leave care, based on focus groups and individual interviews held with 27 care leavers, aged 14 to 29. Each of the most prominent trends will be detailed in future entries:
Severed family connections
Exploitation and trafficking
Extreme poverty and homelessness
The cycle of dependency
Severe emotional distress
Drug addiction
The impact of institutionalization and options for change

It has been a very busy, emotionally draining trip. We are honored that so many youth were willing to share their experiences with us, and feel confident that as we build awareness about the dangerous outcomes of institutionalizing children, that those working in child welfare may begin to assess their practices and consider ways in which they may protect children and youth from such trajectories.

In the meantime, we are collaborating with youth and partner agencies in Cambodia to design the desperately needed transitional services, and are diligently fund raising to ensure we can implement these emergency services as soon as possible.

Youth who leave orphanage care are forgotten. They have been told by foreign volunteers that they will be doctors if they work hard enough, sponsors from afar don’t know that 72%* of institutionalized children and youth in Cambodia have living parents who were simply too poor to care for them. We promised them better lives, and we have merely delayed and exacerbated their vulnerability.
Please stay tuned and share our future blogs. With your help, we can bring this tragic problem to light – change is feasible, and IOFA is motivated to initiate it.

- Susan Rosas, Program Development Intern

*Worley, Mark. “In Orphanages, Only 28% Are Parentless.” The Cambodia Daily. March 21, 2011.

Direct youth participation in program design

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