A peer-to-peer approach:
Supporting care leavers to conduct research in Jordan and Kenya
Emily Delap, December 2022
Photo: Kenya Society of Care Leavers
Child Frontiers has been working on projects for care leavers (young people leaving care to live independently in the community) since 2020. Our work began in Jordan, where we supported UNICEF and the Ministry of Social Development with research, action planning and creating a life-skills training package. Since many care leavers have been repeatedly let down throughout their childhoods and struggle to trust adults, we adapted our traditional interview and group discussion methods, enabling us to obtain their views and learn about their experiences more sensitively. Using a peer-to-peer approach, we trained care leavers to identify potential study participants and conduct research with children still in care and other care leavers. This approach allowed us to collect information from the most vulnerable groups of care leavers and make recommendations about how best to support them.
When Child Frontiers began research with care leavers for UNICEF Kenya and the National Council for Children's Services in 2021, we built on the methodologies and lessons learnt from Jordan. Our international specialists worked alongside our Kenyan colleagues – including a care leaver who acted as an advisor throughout the research – to train a small team of care leavers and pilot the tools over four days. Following the training and pilot, these peer researchers' further adapted the tools and agreed on the language and terminology used. We are now beginning research with care leavers in Thailand for the World Childhood Foundation, where we are also using a peer-to-peer approach.
Our thanks to our team members
Rawan Ibrahim, Kholoud Abu Zaid, Emily Delap
Ken Ondoro, Ruth Wacuka, Emma de Vise-Lewis
Photo: IRC KHF Homebound girls in Jordan
"The way I talk to them and explained it to them, they trust me. Previously, others who came to speak with them didn't get any information. This time it was different."
Female care leaver, Jordan
Speaking with their peers, care leavers were candid about their experiences and their post-care challenges. Without family and extended support networks, care leavers often cannot finish their education, form lasting relationships, find housing and work, and are at risk of exploitation. On exiting care at the age of 18, they lack access to essential services, including education, health care and employment, and struggle to meet their basic needs. After years spent in institutions devoid of much-needed family and community support and love, they suffer additional disadvantages because they lack the social capital, life skills and networks needed to integrate into society.
The peer-to-peer research in Kenya and Jordan revealed many parallels in care leavers' experiences. As a result of the challenges they face, care leavers in both countries often have limited choices in life. The research found that care leavers may be restricted to professions with sympathetic employers or where other care leavers can help them find work. They may also struggle to find suitable marriage partners who understand their past, and Jordanian care leavers frequently marry one another. Female care leavers often marry much older men seeking a younger wife. Furthermore, children who have grown up outside of a family structure do not have a successful partnership to emulate. As a consequence, their relationships seem to break down often.
In both Kenya and Jordan, the study revealed that care leavers rely on one another for assistance and often display an impressive commitment to making life better for their care home 'brothers and sisters.' These bonds cross national boundaries, with care leavers keen to hear about the experiences of their peers in other contexts. Kenyan care leavers have organised themselves into an association, and their perspectives are already being incorporated into the national policy debate. This association has had a noticeable impact on the confidence and capacities of its members. Care leavers in Jordan were inspired to learn about the Kenyan care leavers' association and now aspire to establish their own care leavers club.
Following the research, Child Frontiers supported UNICEF and the MOSD in Jordan to develop a package of life skills for care leavers. Many other NGO partners were involved in this process, including key agencies working with care leavers. A care leavers' reference group was formed to identify the essential skills that care leavers need to live successfully in the community. These skills included being able to: create relationships, avoid exploitation, access services, establish and realise goals, build self-esteem, and find work. Care leavers also gave feedback on the tools to ensure their effectiveness. After taking part in testing the life-skills training package, care leavers said:
"I have learned to think in a reasonable way and not follow rumours and wait before I act. It is very wrong not to use your brain in times of problems, especially since one mistake can change your life forever."
"I learned how to identify and understand my feelings. This has been a moment of freedom for me."
Participation in the projects has also helped care leavers expand their build skills, increase their confidence, and gain insights into their own lives and that of other care leavers. By looking at the different paths other care leavers had taken, they could better examine what they wanted in life and identify factors that could contribute to their success.
"This was an eyeopener for me since I got to learn about the challenges that my colleagues face while transitioning to alternative care and also draft recommendations that can make their lives better" (Female care leaver, Kenya)
"The interviews and listening to other care leavers helped us to realise the bad things that might happen in the future. It made us realise that this is there and might happen to us if we don't do something." (Male care leaver, Jordan)
"We learnt how to be professional. How to talk and communicate between each other and the outside world." (Female care leaver, Jordan)
Spending time with care leavers, building trusting relationships, listening carefully to their perspectives, and – most importantly - acting on their recommendations, wherever possible, has been core to the success of the research and reform process. Similarly, it is critical to be clear and honest about the likely outcomes of the consultations, recognising that they will not automatically lead to the changes that care leavers desire. Care leavers have often been let down multiple times in the past. For this reason, raising expectations that cannot be met only exacerbates their general mistrust of adults and reinforces their low self-esteem. Our research in Kenya and Jordan shows that there are no quick fixes when resolving the complex challenges (so often embedded in deep-rooted societal beliefs) young care leavers face. We firmly believe that any work with care leavers should be accompanied by a long-term commitment to supporting and protecting them.