Inclusive, Enabling Communities

Inclusive, Enabling Communities
Learning Brief

Mamelani Projects

Using research findings to design an integrated, transitional support programme for youth in care centres.

Category: Inclusive, Enabling Communities | Mission-focused connections across NGOs | 12 May, 2014 - 19:12



The Cape Town based Mamelani Project supports youth in the state care system to become independent adults who can successfully sustain themselves when they turn 18 and “age out” of the care houses. In 2012 the organisation began a process to actively reflect on the soundness of its approach, and to build more comprehensive practice guidelines to share with partner organisations. A grant from the DG Murray supported this research initiative, and Mamelani was subsequently able to consolidate its project approach and highlight the key components of a best practice model.  This learning brief showcases some of the research findings and gives an overview of the resulting guidelines that were developed.


The motivating rationale for this research initiative was to better understand the nature of support, and specific care practices needed to best inform transitional programmes for youth in state care. Mamelani endeavoured to unpack the nature and scope of transitional support practices.

In South Africa there are approximately 13,250 children living in registered child and youth care centres (CYCCs), previously called places of safety or children’s homes. The South African Children’s Act No. 38 of 2005 defines a CYCC as a facility:

“for the provision of residential care to more than six children outside the child’s family environment in accordance with a residential care programme suited for the children in the facility”.

While the Act regulates that placement is intended to be temporary (for up to two years), the reality is that a large number of children remain in these facilities until age 18, when they are technically adults and able to live on their own. These youth “age out” of the care system and are suddenly expected to successfully live independently, even though for much of their lives they have had a government agency/official making important decisions for them, and they have not been adequately prepared for adulthood.

While the Act calls on CYCCs to provide transitional support to these young people there are no specific guidelines on the types of services needed. Consequently, most young people leave the care system insufficiently equipped with the skills, resources, and capacities to face the challenges of independent living, and young adulthood.


We facilitated focus groups with representatives from 11 Child and Youth Care Centres and their partner organisations in the Western Cape.

We also facilitated focus groups with 39 young people who were preparing to disengage, or had already disengaged from the care centres.

We conducted an electronic, online survey of all CYCCs in the Western Cape and received a response rate of 87% completed surveys.


The CYCC representatives who attended the focus groups all agreed that more could be done to prepare and support young people during their transition phase as they move out of the care centres. They agreed that independent living skills should be taught to the youth and that they needed to focus more on preparing and supporting the youth through the transition process but they emphasised that there are structural challenges limiting their ability to teach these skills to youngsters. For instance, many CYCC facilities rely on centralised service providers for cooking and cleaning, and so youngsters do not have a household-like opportunity where they can learn to cook and clean for themselves.

Moreover, CYCC support staff struggle to reunite youngsters with their families that could be a potential source of support when they leave the care facilities. In order for family reunification to be effective, The CYCC must establish and maintain contact with the child, his/her designated social worker, and the child’s immediate and extended family. The research highlighted gaps in understanding what is needed in order to improve family reunification services, especially given the capacity limitations of the social workers.

Young people attending the focus groups who had already left the care centres spoke of the stark difference between their perceptions of what life beyond care would be like, and the realities they then faced. Their stories showed that they found it extremely difficult to form and choose positive relationships. Some of them expressed a sense of inferiority, and found belonging to peer groups and their community at large difficult to navigate.

Young people expressed not feeling adequately prepared for the reality they faced after leaving the care centres. They pointed out that “disengaging” at age 18 requires them to assume the responsibilities of an adult, but they are unable to even meet their basic needs on their own. They struggle to meet their financial needs, and spoke about the importance of having somewhere safe to live and someone to talk to about the difficulties they faced as they adapted to their new environment.

The survey results showed that all together in the last 5 years approximately 300 young people had disengaged from the care centres at age 18. Only 35% of CYCCs are currently able to provide supervised spaces where independent living skills could be acquired. Through the survey we were able to identify and list the current services provided to youth by existing CYCC organisations and pinpoint strengths and gaps in service.

The research process highlighted some of the systemic issues that make it difficult for the sector to assist with transitional support programmes. The shortage of financial and human resources in the sector places a burden on the CYCCs’ ability to provide adequate therapeutic and developmental services. This limits the extent to which they can help young people deal with emotional trauma, grow in skills, and develop new capacities to deal with life beyond care. The research showed that we still know very little about the cost and structure of implementing an effective therapeutic model for transitional support programs.

Finally, the research identified a need for improved tracking of the youth, post-care. Once they leave a care centre is becomes very difficult to keep in contact with them. Poor tracking and limited contact with young people once they have left undermines the programme manager’s ability to measure the long-term impact of the project’s effectiveness, and to build a knowledge base regarding what support best serves these youth. Improved tracking will be necessary to effectively assess the impact of different interventions.


Using the results from the research project we developed a set of practical principles and programme components that are necessary to provide adequate support to these transitioning youth. These guidelines are currently being piloted at 6 CYCCs in the Western Cape.

The findings suggests that organisations running transitional support programmes help the youngsters develop an independent living plan that contains the following:

  • A file with essential documents such as birth certificates, ID book, CV, etc.
  • A list of local service providers and contact details in their area.
  • Support for education and a strategic career development plan.
  • A toolkit of vital social skills.

Furthermore, these organisations should provide on-going support to help the young adults acquire the skills necessary to manage their money, take care of their health, know how to access health care, basic social services, community resources, and know how to find and maintain employment.

The resulting guidelines also highlight 8 key components that should be integrated into all transitional support programmes for youth:

  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.
  2. Provide the space to acquire skills and competencies (to learn by doing).
  3. Provide access to developmental and therapeutic support.
  4. Provide access to a collaborative mentor/ positive adult relationship.
  5. Provide support in navigating the broader communities and developing resource networks.
  6. Provide access to on-going support and development once the young person has transitioned out of the care-system.
  7. Provide access to material support after leaving the care-system.
  8. Continually advocate for structural change.


In this learning brief Mamelani shows how it conducted a baseline research project and then used the findings to design an integrated transitional support programme for youth moving out of care centres.

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In Short

This Learning Brief provides a summary of the findings from the Mamelani research project on transitional support programmes for youth moving out of state care centres. It also highlights how the findings were used to develop a set of practice guidelines and programme components that other organisations can adopt when providing support to these transitioning youth.

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