Supporting care leavers in higher education

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Universities across the UK are striving to engage more care leavers with higher education. Here Transitions Team leader at De Montfort University, Melissa Page, explains why this is so important and what her university is seeking to do to reach more care leavers.

In the UK, care leavers are less likely than their peers to be in higher education at age 19. According to latest research, the comparison is about 12 per cent against the national average of 40 per cent. Care leavers also have a higher risk of being not in education, employment or training at age 19. The 12 per cent who do enter university may do so through a less traditional route, and are more likely to have delays or restarts within their studies.

University could mean some of the best years in a young adult’s life. But without appropriate support, it could also mean social isolation, stress or financial difficulties. All new students worry about how they will fit in and make friends. This is especially the case for care leavers if they have low self-confidence and anxiety around change. Disclosing to others that you are care experienced still carries a fear of stigma for many.

Apart from the psychological challenges, it is good to consider the practicalities well in advance – how will the young person manage their money? Where will they want to live during the summer holiday? Do they have a specific learning difference or mental health difficulty? University staff do come across students from a diverse range of backgrounds and will be able to refer to specialist support and counselling where needed.

Tick the box

The good news is that care leavers who do complete their degree are just as likely to achieve a first or upper second class degree as their peers. So what makes for a successful university experience? It helps if a care leaver is identified early in the process. The UCAS application has a tick box to indicate that a student is care experienced. This information is kept confidential but it will allow the institution to offer the student a designated care leaver contact and any additional support, such as a bursary.

De Montfort University has been offering a care leaver package of support for more than ten years. As with anything, the best service happens when all stakeholders speak to each other and work together to know the young person. Every year in May De Montfort University also invites foster carers, personal advisors and anyone supporting children in care to a free training event on campus. This year’s event is on 15 May. We learn a lot from each other – and despite the serious topic, the event is extremely positive!

What foster carers can do:

  • Support the young person in building self-belief.

  • Have open-ended conversations about university from an early age.

  • Attend an Open Day together.

  • Look out for summer activities on campus for younger pupils.

  • Ask about student finance, bursaries and scholarships available.

  • Do not influence the course choice – instead direct the young person to professional careers guidance.

 

For enquiries about the De Montfort University training event, contact transitions@dmu.ac.uk or 0116 2577605.