There are no official data about the number of youth that left social protection system up to the age of 30 (in Serbia persons from 15-30 years of age are considered youths). In foster families and state homes for children and youth there was a total of 6,088 children and young people, out of which 5,321 (87%) - accommodated in foster families and 767 (13%) - were accommodated in state homes for children and young people in 2017. Between 55 and 91 youths at the level of Serbia leave the social protection system annually, the difference in numbers depends on the source of the data. This group of youth is small compared to others and usually blended in other youth at risk, especially since most young care leavers show different aspects of vulnerability (Roma, disability, low or no qualification, teen single mothers, ex-convicts, emotional and mental health problems, homelessness etc.)
Carrier Center Strong Youngsters was established as a result of project “Strong Youngsters – sustainable social inclusion and economic empowerment of youth at risk” conducted by SOS Children’s Villages Serbia. The focus of the Centre SY was on providing youth-tailored holistic support to care leavers. Since there is no official data we used SY data base in which out of the total of 230 beneficiaries: 72 were without qualifications (primary school), 63 were low-skilled (high school drop-outs), 78 had high school education and only 17 had high or higher education (Bachelor and Master). In this small group, representing care leavers 68% had no or low qualifications and 31% were NEET - early school drop-outs, which lead to a lack of skills, qualifications and employment prospects with no social network to support them. They face serious disadvantage in their lives, compared to their peers, thus becoming further exposed to a greater risk of poverty.
Needs/constraints they have: Insufficient soft, social and interpersonal skills, lack of self-esteem and confidence that they can succeed on a labour market and in life in general, insufficient employability skills, insufficient vocational skills, lack of entrepreneurial skills, insufficient knowledge on existing legal regulations related to the labour market, employee rights, tax regulations, etc.; insufficient knowledge on existing funding schemes for innovative entrepreneurs; lack of regular support for business-minded young people wanting to set up their own business activity.
Non-formal education for care leavers is not only a second-best option to formal education, it is also a higher quality education than that available in formal schools since teachers are not prepared to work with children and youth in social protection system. After two years of implementing Carrier Center Strong Youngsters services we can say that non-formal education is an excellent alternative to formal schooling for care leavers. Services that we provide are: an assessment of their skills and competences, career guidance, training programme on employability which increased their life, social and interpersonal skills, developed their knowledge on the self-presentation techniques, CV writing, enhanced their understanding of a job market and its requirements, as well as improved their vocational and digital skills; first job experience (in collaboration with business companies), continuous support on the way of accessing labour market (i.e. individual and group counselling, motivation trainings, job mentoring), professional training programmes on entrepreneurship, support in developing and shaping business ideas. As a result, through the past year and half 230 youngsters have benefited from the Centre SY, 122 made their Individual Development Plan, 51 have been employed, 79 gain new occupation through VET, 28 had first on-the-job experiences in the labour market and 6 have opened their own start-ups.
Care leavers need more flexible education, employment and empowerment programs tailored to bridge their knowledge gaps, career advice, as well as opportunities for work or apprenticeships to help them develop their self-esteem and prepare them for independent living. They also need a level of financial support to take part in educational and/or training programmes, since once they leave social protection system they are depending on their own economic resources. It is also important to help them develop their social skills and build up support networks which could be done by participating in non-formal education.
Non-formal education is more flexible and tailored to student’s needs and knowledge gaps, it gives care leavers a new level of skills and capabilities, decent job opportunities and better future.