“Aging Out” of Foster Care- David’s Story

| Verity Fitzgerald

Every year, hundreds of young adults “age out” of the foster care system in South Africa when they officially become adults at or around their 18th birthday. It is a big transition that often comes with very little support.

“David” (name changed to protect identity) was orphaned from a very young age and put in a group home after being removed from his older brother’s care due to alcoholism. He was moved to many different group homes and places of safety before settling at the Homestead in Khayelitsha for most of his teenage years. After “aging out” about 18 months ago, he was sent back to his brother care, with little more than a bus ticket.

Today, he has found his way to the Baphumelele Fountain of Hope (FOH), a pioneer project aimed at providing a safe and nuturing environment to 18-21 year-olds raised in residential care, recently orphaned, or vulnerable. This week, he shares his world with Ground Up and explains why it’s important for young people to become independent before they leave care: “If you do something for me I will not be proud of it because I did not sweat to get it for myself. So let us be involved in that process so that when I need something else I can use the same skills.”

David was released from Homestead at 18 and then moved back to his brother and sister in law, an environment which had little changed since he was last removed from their care, with his brother still drinking excessively. “He’s a smart guy, but has no brains when he’s drunk.” Through another youth programme, he ended up at Fountain of Hope. He has now been there about a year and is soon turning 20.

Despite the Children’s Act clearly stating the government should provide “post-care” support, projects like FOH receive little or no government funding. Their operation is currently run on generous private donations, but they continue to struggle.

David praying at Jubilee Church. Attending church on a Sunday is an important part of life for the residents at Fountain of Hope. For David, this is quite new to his routine “I believe my church is in my bed, as long as I have my bible. But in church I love the singing and the praising, that’s what I enjoy.”

Standing at Jubilee Church. “Mandy [at Jubilee Church] has been supporting us, we really appreciate that and I hope not to disappoint Jubilee.”

David socializing with tea on a Sunday. Throughout his adolescence, David struggled to focus on his education given the large gaps in his schooling before being picked up by the social workers and was often drawn into gang violence. He explains how gangs offered him a sense of belonging, and pride in being a leader. “As a teenager you are always searching for a sense of belonging.” Socialising over tea after the sermon and engaging with the other members of the community is something David looks forward to.

David in his room at Fountain of Hope. At Fountain of Hope, he is no longer involved with gangs, “I always told those gangsters they were watching too much TV but now I was also doing the same thing, I realised that this life wasn’t for me, I wasn’t meant to be a gangster.” David shares a room with the only other male resident, whom he gets along well with. David is a much-loved part of the Fountain of Hope family. “It’s hard not to like him” says the Youth Program Manager.

David playing pool at Fountain of Hope. The pool table in the boys’ room brings much entertainment. Looking for a challenge David boasts that he gets “bored of beating the same people over and over again.”

Sit-ups with David. Taking much pride in his appearance, he and his roommate work out twice a day using the minimal facilities they have.

Shoes and love of fashion. Fashion and clothing is one of David’s passions. He often saves up for a new item of clothing and doesn’t like wearing the same things for too long.

David’s Smile. David’s gregarious personality brings much amusement around the house. “Having the boys around really balances the atmosphere,” explains the youth program manager.

Cooking meals at Fountain of Hope. These young adults must learn how to prepare and cook their own meals in their new independent lives- a skill many of them have to learn. David’s biggest struggle in becoming an adult, however, is the uncertainty regarding his citizen status. Taken into care without any ID documents or birth certificate, he was for many years thought to be from Burundi, but recently found out that he is originally Congolese. Unless his South African citizenship is determined, David faces the risk of being deported to a country he knows next to nothing about. “I don’t speak the language and I have no connections there. I was raised as a Xhosa,” he explains.

David’s Shadow with soccer ball. David and his roommate often play soccer together, something he became passionate about when living in Khayalitsha as a boy. He often compares church to a soccer game, where all kinds of people come together with “one spirit”.

David walking in the Fountain of Hope garden. The center’s vegetable garden is a source of both nourishment and frustration. If the youth miss school or curfew, they are made to help out in the garden. “We are trying to change their view of the garden so that they no longer see it as a punishment but try to encourage the idea of opportunity.” Says the youth program manager with a laugh.

Garden with potential at Fountain of Hope. Located on around a hectare of farmland on Schaapkraal Road in the Philippi Horticultural area, on the Cape Flats, the Fountain of Hope farm now hosts 20 young people both male and female in temporary residential buildings.

If you would like to get involved, the Fountain of Hope are always looking for volunteers to tutor extra classes for those residents currently matriculating. They have a particular need for help in Maths, Business and Afrikaans. For more information please call +27 (0)21 703 7477.

Verity Fitzgerald is a freelance photojournalist based in Cape Town. www.verityfitzgerald.com

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