Inclusive, Enabling Communities

Inclusive, Enabling Communities
Learning Brief

Mamelani Projects

An integrated approach for helping youth transition out of formal care centres

Category: Inclusive, Enabling Communities | Mission-focused connections across NGOs | 5 April, 2014 - 12:00


Mamelani Projects, based in Cape Town, has developed a support programme to equip young people with the skills and resources required to successfully transition out of the formal youth-care system to independent living and adulthood. In 2012 the organisation initiated a process to actively reflect on the soundness of this strategy, and created best practice guidelines for a transitional care model that could be utilised by the broader sector. Mamelani is now partnering with the Department of Social Development to pilot this approach alongside six Child and Youth Care Centres (CYCCs) in the Western Cape Province. In 2013, Mamelani also began working with Lawrence House, Leliebloem House, SA Children’s Home, Saint George’s Home for Girls, and Heatherdale Home for Girls to pilot this novel approach. Mamelani has established a learning exchange with other organisations researching this topic, as well as other CYCCs who are developing transitional support interventions to share lessons, best practices, and knowledge regarding youngsters leaving the formal care-system.


After conducting formative research (see our learning brief on the research findings) on the factors that aid young people in transitioning away from the care-system to independence, we developed our innovative long-term approach. Our strategy focuses on preparing the youngsters for independent living before, during, and after the transition process.

Based on the research findings and the pilot rollout of this program we have the following lessons to share:

1. Provide the space and infrastructure to develop independent living skills while in the care-system, as well as the other skills needed to cope beyond care. It is important to transfer practical independent living skills, and equally vital to develop healthy inter-dependent living skills necessary for coping beyond care. Mamelani provides young people with practical opportunities to gain these skills and to experiment with them in real life situations. For example, we give young person a chance to learn budgeting skills by managing money within our programme.

2. Provide the space to acquire skills and competencies (to learn by doing). Young people need to acquire skills in a real life space, to experiment with these skills, and to learn from mistakes. Transitioning from care is a big change in a young person’s life. This is the time when a child becomes a young adult and needs to negotiate and find their place in the world. It is a period that also provides unique opportunities for the young adult to rediscover and redefine who they are. We believe that each challenging experience can be used as a potential learning opportunity and if the youngsters are supported with information and skills, they will be able to learn form the experience and build a sense of mastery and self-determination. Thus it is imperative that when mistakes are made (and they will be) that the individual is encouraged to learn from these setbacks and keep moving forward. Affirmation, support, authentic mentor relationships, and celebrating each significant victory along the journey are central to creating positive change.

3. Provide access to developmental and therapeutic support. Mamelani promotes the personal development of each young person by helping him or her develop an identity, strengthen relationships, and build resilience. We provide individual one on one support, experiential group work, and wilderness-based rites of passage processes. We provide psychosocial assessments and referral to professional counselling if needed. We use an Independent Living Skills Assessment Tool to assesses each youngster’s current capacity of practical skills, and then conduct on-going psychosocial assessments to explore their emotional and social capital – this becomes the tool that tracks their growth in terms of identity, resilience and relationships.

4. Provide access to a collaborative mentor/ positive adult relationship. Mamelani believes that youth transitioning into adulthood need positive and collaborative one-on-one adult relationships that are free of judgement and that allow the youngster to work and grow at his/her own pace. We facilitate the development of such mentoring relationships. Each young person develops an Individual Development Plan and sets goals for exiting the youth-care-system. The assigned adult mentor then works alongside them to reach these self-defined goals and to provide advice and assistance along the way.

5. Provide support in navigating the broader communities and developing resource networks. Young people leaving the care-system need to be resourceful and need to know how, and where to access vital resources from a wide community network. Mamelani’s programme encourages these youth to network and build wide-ranging relationships by participating in community service activities. Each young person conducts a community resource mapping exercise where they identify and list different types of resources in their community. We also get them to visit new locations in their community/city such as banks, the clinic, and home affairs offices.

6. Provide access to on-going support and development once the young person has transitioned out of the care-system. Our research findings show that 40% of CYCCs believed youth needed at least 2 of support after leaving the formal care-system in order to successfully establish themselves, financially and relationally. On-going support is critical to ensure that these young people continue to feel they have somewhere to turn if needed, and that they have a safety net if things go wrong. Thus, Mamelani’s transitional support programme focuses on a continuum of care that starts before the young person leaves the care-system and remains once they have left care for up to period of two years.

7. Provide access to material support after leaving the care-system. One of the major obstacles facing young people once they “age out” of the formal state care system is limited access to basic material resources such as money, accommodation, transport, and food. Many of these youth seek refuge with extended family or friends who cannot adequately meet their basic material and emotional needs. Mamelani’s programme therefore supports young people in meeting these needs for the duration of their participation in the programme. We encouraged each youngster to identify ways in which they can begin to meet their own needs and become self-reliant. They learn where they can help themselves and where they can’t, and then they learn how to ask for help. We emphasise responsibility and resourcefulness by giving them an opportunity to work for, and take care of some small resources. This nurtures an identity of self-reliance, and a belief that they can do things for themselves.

8. Continually advocate for structural change. At Mamelani we believe that children who have grown up under state care should have access to adequate transitional support, and should not be further marginalized as they disengage from the care-system. To this end, the legislation relating to transitional support should be further developed, outlining more specifically the components that should form the basis of transitional support. We continually advocate for more research quantifying and exploring the meaning of “after care” services described in the Children’s Act, particularly with regard to what this means for Independent Living Programmes. We also want to prioritise increased collaboration between the Departments of Social Development, Children and Families, and Youth Development. This will serve to close the gap between the services provided to children and youth.

THE WAY FORWARD – Anticipated challenges of implementing an integrated approach

Over the next 3 years, Mamelani and its partnering CYCCs will need to address the following questions as it implements this novel approach:

  • How do we support the CYCCs in creating enabling spaces where the transitional young people can acquire the skills necessary for coping as independent adults?
  • How do help young people who have experienced long-term institutionalisation to shift from an institutionalised to an independent mindset? Furthermore, how can we help carers and social workers shift from a mindset of ‘doing for’ to one of ‘doing with’ young people?
  • How can we successfully lobby government and municipalities for adequate post-care support and resources to ensure that young people do not fall through the gaps once they leave?
  • In order to remain youth-centred and relevant, how we do ensure that we continually reflect and engage with the young participants in the process?
  • How do we support our team, not only with delivery, but also with the strengthening of our practice? How can we incorporate adequate debriefing and developmental supervision?
  • How can we as an organisation build the knowledge base and practice for better equipping those working with young people in providing transitional support so that this area of work becomes more established and based on evidence and shared practice principles as Independent Living Programmes have not been adequately outlined in the Children’s Act.


This learning brief has listed 8 action points that the Mamelani Project takes to help prepare young adults in the state care-system transition into independent, adult living. Other agencies interested in youth care can adopt these action points for their own purposes. In addition to listing some of the challenges of adopting this type of strategy, this learning brief has highlighted the benefits of inter-organizational partnerships and a long term commitments that best serve young people in formal state care to aid them in becoming self-sufficient adults.

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In Short

This learning brief outlines 8 action points taken by the Mamelani Project to help prepare young adults in the state care-system to transition into independent, adult living. Mamelani shares these action points as lessons for other agencies interested in youth care.

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