Leading academics, The Fostering Network, and other charities, believe that more can be done to support care experienced young people into higher education after a new report published by Cardiff University has revealed that fewer than ten per cent of care leavers in Wales are accessing higher education.
Commissioned by the Welsh Government, the report from a team at the Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre (CASCADE), states that just eight per cent of care leavers progress to full-time education by age nineteen, compared with forty-three per cent of all young people. Just 2.4 per cent of care leavers attend university.
The research, which included focus groups with looked after children conducted by Wales’s leading fostering charity The Fostering Network, reports issues at each stage of a young person’s educational journey, including those arising from stigma and placement and school instability. The report calls for moves to streamline communication between schools, local authorities and agencies to minimise disruption and distress, and for greater emphasis to be placed on providing extra learning and one-on-one support where movement has to take place.
Worryingly the research findings suggested that a pessimistic view of the education potential of looked after children is often held by key professionals, with an engrained expectation that they should be treated differently because of their circumstances.
Among the recommendations are that meetings relating to care circumstances be conducted out of school hours, to minimise disruption and attention; and for universal initiatives to be open to all children, not just those who are in care, to help reduce stigma.
Another key highlight from the research was that many carers themselves have low educational attainment and are therefore often not adequately equipped to support with learning. This is a significant problem that impacts on cared for children’s subsequent perceptions of education, which could be tackled by providing opportunities for foster carers to gain additional training and qualifications.
One young person, who participated in the research, said: ‘We don’t want people to be “looked after”. You want to be a normal kid too you know.’ Another participant stated: ‘I was made to feel like an outcast because I was in care. It made me feel alienated, frustrated, lonely and vulnerable.’
Researchers say the findings demonstrate the need for looked after children to have access to educational resources, support in attending after-school clubs and other opportunities to develop and maintain important peer networks.
Dr Emily Warren, director of The Fostering Network in Wales, said: ‘The Fostering Network is ambitious for children and young people in Wales and we are encouraged that the Welsh Government is investing in their futures. Children in care have as much right to a life untouched by stigma and negativity as anyone, and we believe that everyone involved in the education of looked after children must have high aspirations for them. Our research with fostered children and young people means that there is a genuine young people’s voice coming through the report, and its findings must be a wakeup call for professionals throughout the country. We have a commitment to the thousands of looked after children in Wales to not allow the learning from this report to be lost, and The Fostering Network will be working with Welsh Government, foster carers and other professionals to ensure that it isn’t.’