Posted Thursday 29 October 2020
This week marks National Care Leavers' Week 2020 – a week that brings awareness of this group of young people, highlights some of the challenges they face and celebrates their successes. Access and support adviser for Kingston University's KU Cares scheme Beth Taswell explains how the programme supports students during their time at the University.
A care leaver is a young person who grew up in local authority care such as foster care or residential children's homes. The local authority has the parental responsibility for these young people until they turn 18, and at that point the young person can then access reduced support from a Leaving Care Team until they turn 25 when all statutory support will stop.
Every year, nearly 10,000 young people leave care when they turn 18. Only 20 per cent will remain with their foster carers, with the majority (40 per cent) moving into semi or fully independent accommodation, regardless of whether or not that young person feels ready for that step.
If you think back to when you were 18, how ready were you to be fully independent? Most people are fortunate enough to have family to fall back on when things get tough, whether that's to borrow a bit of cash to help with the food shop, or just to check in and make sure that they're ok. For a lot of young people leaving care, the support they had as a child will stop abruptly on their 18th birthday, yet most of their peers who are not in care, will continue to be supported by their parents indefinitely.
At Kingston University, we have been supporting young care leavers since 2006. Almost 15 years later we support just over 100 students with experience of local authority care, alongside students estranged from their families, young adult carers, and asylum seekers on our award-winning KU Cares scheme.
Through KU Cares we support care leavers by working collaboratively with local authorities, university services and external organisations. We have a package of practical support including bursaries and access to year-round accommodation. There are two Access and Support Advisors on the scheme who work to support all KU Cares students from the point of application, during their studies, and through to graduation. My role as the designated contact for care leavers is to tailor support to each individual student's needs. This can be anything from helping them with their Student Finance, to helping them access wider university support services, to advocating on their behalf with their local authority.
One of the biggest challenges in my role is knowing how under-resourced local authorities are, but I still have a responsibility to ensure that young people are accessing all the support that they're entitled to and that they deserve. Often I see how care leavers who have succeeded in entering Higher Education are not prioritised for support from their local authority because they are maybe seen as less vulnerable than those care leavers who are not in education, employment or training.
If you're interested in finding out more about some of the wider context and issues surrounding care-experienced young people, Become (the national charity for children in care and care leavers) have some excellent resources. Their social media campaign #WhenIWas18 invites people to share photos of when they were 18 and what they were up to, as a way of highlighting the way that thousands of 18 year olds will leave the care system overnight.
If you have any questions about the work we do at Kingston, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.