Promoting social and economic inclusion for young people leaving residential care in South Africa: evaluation of the role of formal mentoring

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Objective: In South Africa, an estimated 21,000 young people live in residential care. They typically have fractured family relationships, are placed in communities far from home, and often do not have the social support they need to negotiate the transition to adult life. The challenges associated with leaving care are compounded by experiences of inequality and social exclusion. South Africa remains one of the most unequal societies in the world, particularly for youth. Significant disparities in opportunity and income are sharply focused in the lives of care leavers, and the absence of strong social networks contributes to continued poverty and disadvantage.

South Africa has a goal to interrupt the intergenerational transmission of poverty and promote inclusion for socially marginalised young people. This requires agencies to help children acquire social and life skills, and allocate a specialised person to facilitate their move to independence. Mentoring seems ideally placed to contribute to achieving those goals, however, most of the evaluative research is located in the Global North.
The project reported in this paper aimed to evaluate the potential of formal mentoring for addressing development goals of promoting equitable economic growth and social inclusion for socially marginalised care leavers in unequal societies.
Method: This pilot project undertook a qualitative evaluation of the ‘Transition to Independent Living’ programme offered by SAYes, a Non-Governmental-Organisation, to young people living in and leaving residential care in Cape Town, as a case study of formal mentoring. The programme mentors are trained volunteers who offer one-to-one support, encouragement and opportunities for personal development and employability. The mentoring involves paired sessions for one hour per week over nine months.
The research project was funded through the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund, and was a collaboration between two universities, one located in the Global North (Queen’s University Belfast) and the other in the Global South (University of Cape Town). Researchers from both universities conducted individual semi-structured interviews with 35 care-experienced young people, 8 residential home staff, and two focus groups with 16 current mentors. Thematic analysis of the data was carried out through a collaborative approach between the two universities, facilitated by the use of Nvivo software. This allowed us to develop, collectively, a conceptual and explanatory account from the data.

Findings: In this paper we will reflect briefly on what we have learned about undertaking international collaborative research, and developing global dialogue on the issue of mentoring for care-leavers. We will present findings from interviews with mentees. We will give an overview of mentee’s circumstances and the challenges they described in terms of:
• Transitioning to adulthood
• experience of community-level adversity
• experience of personal adversity
• social and economic disadvantage
• fractured family relationships

We will report on mentee’s evaluation of the key elements of the mentoring programme:

• forging a connection with their mentor
• engaging in positive relationships
• viewing their circumstances differently
• enriching their interests and opportunities
• their personal priorities for education, access to opportunity and personal wellbeing.

Conclusion: time-bounded formal mentoring can promote resilience by supporting emotional wellbeing, encouraging connection, and helping care experienced youth to navigate systemic, social and economic constraints. It can be an important component of support but is not a substitute for a well-resourced system of care for young people transitioning out of residential care.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 01 Sept 2021
Event16th European Scientific Association on Residential and Family Care for Children and Adolescents Conference (EUSARF) - Zurich, Switzerland
Duration: 01 Sept 202103 Sept 2021


Conference16th European Scientific Association on Residential and Family Care for Children and Adolescents Conference (EUSARF)
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