Youth Mentoring: supporting the journey toward economic inclusion for South African care-leavers

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The transition into adulthood is particularly challenging for youth moving from out-of-home placements, i.e. ‘care-leavers’. In South Africa, young people in out-of-home care typically have fractured family relationships, are placed outside their home communities, and do not have the social support they need to help them negotiate the challenges of adult life. The absence of strong social networks contributes to continued poverty and disadvantage, meaning that the disparities in opportunity and income prevalent among South African youth are sharply focused in the lives of care leavers. South Africa has a goal to interrupt the intergenerational transmission of poverty and promote inclusion for socially marginalised young people. Mentoring seems ideally placed to contribute to achieving those goals, however, most of the evaluative research is located in the Global North.
This paper reports on a qualitative evaluation of the Transition to Independent Living (TIL) formal mentoring programme offered by SAYes, a Non-Governmental-Organisation, to young people living in and leaving out-of-home care in Cape Town, South Africa. Taking TIL as a case study, the project explored the potential of mentoring for addressing development goals of improved wellbeing through social inclusion and promoting equitable access to economic opportunities for marginalised care leavers.
The TIL mentors are trained volunteers who offer one-to-one support through paired sessions for one hour per week over nine months. The programme aims to combat inequality by helping mentees to earn a living, develop healthy relationships, and become engaged with their communities.
The evaluation involved collaboration between Queen’s University Belfast, UK and the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town. Researchers from both universities conducted semi-structured interviews with 35 young people involved with the TIL programme who were living in or recently exited from care; semi-structured interviews with 8 care staff; and two focus groups with mentors. During the study, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, SAYes moved from in-person to online sessions. A further wave of interviews ascertained the benefits and challenges of e-mentoring as a mode of programme delivery. Nvivo software facilitated collaborative thematic data analysis and allowed the two universities to develop, collectively, a conceptual account from the data.
Findings indicate that mentoring provided young people with: access to information about the labour market; guidance with applications for courses and jobs; relationships in which to develop self-efficacy and social skills; encouragement to connect with their talents and interests; motivation to persist toward attaining their goals; and a sense of hope about their potential future selves likely to sustain their educational and work-seeking efforts.
We concluded that while access to opportunity is constrained by structural conditions, mentoring can enable care leavers to identify and maximise the educational and employment chances that are available to them, but they need to be motivated to do so. We will discuss how these findings relate to ecological resilience for care leavers (van Breda, 2018) and align with a youth development approach to employability that emphasises the youth agency (Graham et al, 2019).
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2021
Event22nd Biennial Conference of the International Consortium for Social Development
- South Africa, Johannesburg
Duration: 13 Jul 202116 Jul 2021


Conference22nd Biennial Conference of the International Consortium for Social Development


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