It’s a cliché, but going to university for the first time can be a daunting prospect for any young person, but for some young people who are care experienced, the task can seem an even bigger mountain to climb. Lack of parental support and guidance, financial constraints, and handling the transition into university can all seem too much.
This is why young people from care backgrounds and the adults involved in their care - be it their foster carer, kinship carer or family friend – need to know what support is available at this important juncture in their life.
We want students to succeed. Teachers, care workers and foster carers should encourage any ambition a young care experienced person has to go to university and make them aware of the strands of support available to them.
We recognise that personal issues can still impact on a student’s study regardless of their academic ability. We therefore aim to provide as much support as possible to enable students to reach their full potential with mentor support, advocacy, and counselling services available.
In my role, there is nothing more rewarding than supporting students who perhaps struggled for a period get back on track. Some of the students are a real inspiration to me. There’s one student who is very proud of her care background. Nothing holds her back. She is extremely engaged with the clubs and societies and takes every opportunity to speak to other students and prospective students, supporting others and turning her experience into a real positive. I have no doubt that she will succeed in anything she puts her mind to after university.
We are very fortunate at Strathclyde to be in a position to provide a package of support for care leavers at every stage of university life.
We look at attainment within the circumstances it was achieved, and as a result provide all of our widening access students including care leavers with a ‘contextual offer’. This basically means that we provide at least a one grade reduction in entry requirements to those from care experienced backgrounds.
We provide care leavers with personalised tours of the campus and its facilities, employment opportunities such as guaranteed interviews for student ambassador roles, and the funds to cover their graduation costs.
We also provide a wide range of financial support for care experience students, including scholarships and guaranteed 365 days a year accommodation.
My colleagues and I have engaged with local authority ‘throughcare’ and ‘aftercare’ teams. These are the teams who deal directly with young people in care, and help them transition when they leave their care settings. Our role is to inform them of what support is available to potential students. The teams have generally been surprised and impressed with what we tell them, as often university study is the last things on their minds.
For many fosters carers, it’s the same. They are focussed on the day-to-day and getting the child through school, that they don’t often have time to consider what the options are for further study.
We have also attended corporate parenting events. For example, I attended one at Motherwell College where young people came along with their social workers and met with our students and talked about the university experience.
There is something quite powerful about the young people hearing from students themselves about how they made it through to university.
We provide all students from care backgrounds with a mentor for the full duration of their studies. This is a university staff member who provides advice on any aspect of student life.
When the going gets tough, mentors provide guidance and also signpost students to relevant support services. Recently, a mentor supported a care leaver who was struggling with her academic reading and writing. Her mentor suggested that she speak to disability services and she was diagnosed with dyslexia. She now has the proper support in place and has continued with her studies.
Some students have managed to secure work experience and internships through their mentors and contacts in industry. One of our volunteer mentors secured a placement with Morgan Stanley for their mentee, an opportunity that they would not have had otherwise.
I also provide one-to-one advocacy for students. At times this has involved being an intermediary between the student and their advisor of studies should the student experience problems on their course, where we all sit down together and come up with a plan to move forward.
The decision to go to university for any young person is a huge step. For any care leaver considering university, my advice to them is simple: just do it! Research the options and support available to you, speak to your care giver, your teachers and your peers. You may be surprised by what you can achieve.
The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author/s and may not represent the views or opinions of CELCIS or our funders.
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