Posted Monday 2 November 2020
Businesses have been called upon to employ more care leavers by Kingston University's Vice-Chancellor Professor Steven Spier during a panel talk to celebrate National Care Leavers' Week.
The discussion was a key part of the Empathy Summit, organised by the Care Leaver Covenant and social value agency Spectra, which highlighted the challenges care leavers face, the importance of empathy and what education and business can do to support them.
Professor Spier, who took part in a panel event hosted by writer, presenter and broadcaster Sue Perkins, spoke about the University's award-winning KU Cares programme, which provides a comprehensive package of support to care leavers, estranged students, young adult carers and sanctuary scholars during their studies at Kingston.
The Vice-Chancellor said the commitment and application shown by students on the scheme were key attributes employers should be looking for. "I would urge all businesses to look at offering care leavers a job because those who are coming, and have been through, our KU Cares programme are so determined. They've overcome so many obstacles in their life that they have incredible willpower to succeed," he said.
Professor Spier told the panel – which included non-executive chairman of ITV Sir Peter Bazalgette and Government policy advisor for looked after children Zahra Printer – of the wide-ranging wraparound support offered to KU Cares students at the University. "When they have had an exam or a big event, we ring them afterwards to congratulate them. We throw them a Christmas party and offer all of them year-round accommodation because some of them don't have homes to go to and it is really important for them to have that personal connection when some of them might be missing out in terms of family support," he said.
Ms Printer was pleased to hear of Kingston's accommodation offer, having been a care leaver herself during her time at university. "Every Christmas and every summer holiday I was looking for somewhere to stay and that's almost three months a year where I was sofa-surfing because I had nowhere to go – I even had to self-fund my own storage locker because I was fed up of moving my belongings around," she said.
The KU Cares team also make it their mission to ensure all the students they support feel part of the University. "We offer bursaries to our KU Cares students and hire them to help co-design the curriculum. It's important they get a say and help us develop it so it's accessible to everyone – we want them to feel part of the Kingston community," Professor Spier added.
The effect of the coronavirus pandemic on students was also touched on during the discussion, with Professor Spier highlighting the mental health implications of the lockdown. "When we re-opened the library in August, a student said to me she was so grateful because she was having to sit on her bed in the room in her bedsit and complete her dissertation alone," he said.
Kingston University was approached to take part in the summit, which was held digitally due to the pandemic and also featured specially arranged music, film and poetry, to share its pioneering diversity and inclusion initiatives that support care leavers.
Professor Spier has also been given the platform to discuss the need to support care leavers with Universities Minister Michelle Donelan MP during a Department for Education Care Leaver and Estranged Students summit.