Kinship foster carer, Jenny, has overcome every hurdle with her grandchildren and is proud to see them thriving at university.
Jenny fought for the right to become a foster carer for her grandchildren, knowing it would help her to give them the best opportunities. A decade on and both her grandchildren are studying at university. Though there have been huge challenges in getting them there, the introduction of Staying Put in England and other support from the university have made it possible.
'In July 2008 my grandchildren came to stay with me under the supervision of children’s services. Their mother – my daughter – had struggled with mental illness and accompanying demons of drugs and alcohol for many years. They returned home to her several months later, but by spring 2009 they came back to me on a child protection order. They have remained with me ever since.
'As a single parent I had always worked to support my children. Now I was about to retire and had neither the funds or the energy to properly support a 12-year-old and a nine-year-old on my own. I fought for the right to foster, after a social worker told me that this arrangement would be of greater benefit in the long term to the children. This was not an easy task, and I was frequently opposed by representatives of the local authority. The early years were particularly difficult.
Sparse financial assistance
'Fast forward to September 2015. My grandson had always been academically focused, school for him had been structured and predictable. Maths and science were logical and provided an escape from any emotional turmoil he might experience. His hard work paid off and armed with a clutch of 12 GCSEs and four A Levels he was accepted by Manchester University to do an MSc in Chemical Engineering.
'After years of challenging experiences with social workers, he was now under the leaving care team. Like their predecessors in children's services they appeared to be in turmoil. His designated personal advisor went on extended sick leave; there were management changes and multiple agency staff. Financial assistance was sparse, and there appeared to be no policy in place to support him. As his grandmother I was prepared to secure his university accommodation with a deposit. By his second year I was guaranteeing his rent on a shared house, because the local authority was 'unable' to do so. He had to find his own way through the various grants and loans available to students, and commenced his first term without the necessary books and equipment.
'All somewhat daunting! And perhaps a step too far for many foster carers, even if they want to provide a base for the student to return to during breaks, often at a considerable loss of income. Many foster carers may not have been to university, they may not understand the process, they may not have the confidence to discuss these issues with teachers. It didn’t feel like the local authority expected him to go to university and they weren’t able to support him properly, so we had to do a lot of research ourselves.
'A very enlightened social worker once told me that my grandchildren had ‘special needs’ - her way of saying that their needs were often overlooked, because they were academically gifted. However when it comes to emotional distress every child who ends up in care is created equal and should have the support they need!
Actively supporting young people
'Ten years have flown by! And in October 2018 my granddaughter began a BA Hons in English with Creative Writing at Queen Mary University of London. Her competitive streak made sure that her GCSE and A Level results equalled her brother’s!
'In the past three years the Staying Put arrangement in our local authority has been agreed. They have a new policy which actively supports young people to go to university, and the leaving care team are at present stable. My granddaughter’s Staying Put funding is guaranteed and broken down into amounts for travel, books, and living expenses. Her brother has his rent paid for his final academic year, and she has received a scholarship from the Unite Foundation which encourages children from care, or young people living alone in the community, to apply for free accommodation for the duration of their course (at designated universities, the list is online).
'Kinship foster care can provide amazing outcomes for young people whose parenting is under extreme stress. These children have an element of familiarity and shared history with their foster carers, which can create security, continuity and the knowledge that no matter how bad things get, we are in this together. My grandchildren have been able to embrace their history and turn it into a positive...my job is done!'
Tick the Box
In Jenny’s years as a kinship carer she has seen huge improvements in provision for care leavers, including Staying Put (you can read more about Staying Put here). Nevertheless, she struggled to find the information and support she needed to help her grandchildren go to university. The aim of The Fostering Network’s Tick the Box campaign is to make sure that every care-experienced young person who wants to go to university can get the support to which they are entitled.
We are asking foster carers to write to their local schools and spread the word that care-experienced students must ‘tick the box’ on their UCAS forms to say they have been in care to give themselves the best chance of success at university. Support the campaign.