The outlook for young people leaving local authority care in the UK is uncertain. Recent figures show that 34 per cent of care leavers are NEET (not in employment, education or training) at age 19, compared to 18 per cent of the general youth population. Only six per cent of care leavers (compared to 40 per cent of the general youth population) go on to higher education.
The challenges faced by care leavers are considerably higher than those faced by the majority of students. Kingston University is committed to helping these young people succeed. We have a unique programme, KU Cares, to attract local authority care leavers to university and support them through the application process, during their time at university and through graduation into the world of work. We have built a tried-and-tested package of financial and pastoral support including an outreach programme, a bursary, a priority place in halls of residence, one-to-one contact and a calendar of social events and specialist support.
Our focus, individual approach and financial package means that a significant proportion (10 per cent in 2015) of all the care leavers who attend higher education are here at Kingston University.
Chloe was taken into care at 15 years of age. Although life improved in many ways, numerous accommodation placements during a short period of time and the pressures of living independently from a young age on a limited budget, was difficult.
Attending university had always been Chloe's intention but she was concerned about her academic ability to successfully complete her course. Choosing a university with a good support network for care leavers was also important for her to ensure that the University understood the additional barriers and experiences that she, like many other KU Cares students had to face.
"I felt that with the support of KU Cares I settled in well but I just felt different because of the responsibilities I had compared to my peers. It was difficult, especially in my final year, to work 20+ hours a week along with my studies. I also felt like I was in a very dark place for a lot of the time and therefore didn't find it very easy to ask for academic support from members of my faculty. I was conscious that this made me fall behind and I was invisible... the KU Cares team supported me tremendously. Without them, I honestly do not think I could have gotten through university. They have provided financial support, support regarding my mental health and career development opportunities. The team have gone above and beyond to help me."
Despite these challenges, Chloe graduated in 2015 with a 2:1 from her Drama and Psychology BA(Hons) programme. She's now working as a HR assistant for a disability charity.
When Sandra was just five years of age both her parents died and she moved from Uganda along with her two sisters to the UK to live with her aunt.
This relationship grew difficult and with a referral from her school, Sandra and her sisters became under the care of social services. As a 16 year old Sandra was placed away from her two sisters into a young person's foyer, a centre that provided accommodation, support and training for vulnerable and often homeless young people. Here she continued to study towards her A-levels but says that this was a particularly challenging time.
After successfully completing her A-levels, Sandra took a couple of gap years as she felt demotivated and unsure what to study if she did go to university. With the support of her key worker, Sandra made the application to university and successfully gained a place at Kingston University. She found the biggest challenges managing financially with no parental support, but overall settled well and thrived in a higher education setting.
"I got a lot of support from KU Cares emotionally and financially at University. It made me proud that the University recognises care leaver students and offers confidential support and encouragement. I always felt that there was someone I could talk to if I needed to."
Sandra completed a degree in Business Management BSc(Hons) in 2015, gaining a 2:1 degree classification. She's studying towards a masters degree in business. Her long-term ambition is to start up her own business, a goal she is likely to achieve given the grit and determination that she has showcased so far in her personal and academic life.