Care Leavers are the forgotten minority at university

We’re not recognised, represented or supported by the NUS

I am a Care Leaver at University, which makes me part of the 1 per cent of all Care Leavers in Higher Education.

Even though our journey is often harder than the average student, we’re still not afforded any recognition, representation or support from either of my Students’ Unions nor nationally from the NUS.

Buttle UK states a Care Leaver is someone who was in care on their 16th birthday and had been in care for at least thirteen weeks since they turned 14. There are many different reasons why young people are taken away from their parents and put into foster-care ranging from neglect and different forms of abuse to family breakdowns.

I come from a single parent impoverished background, and while I was under the care of my mother we were constantly fluctuating above and below the poverty line.

JoshuaKnightI managed to get to university, but there are many young people who become homeless at that sort of age and do not know that their local authority has a legal responsibility for their care according to the Southwark Ruling.

My mother has never been a bad person and has always done her best, but in some ways she had been failed by a broken system.

I thought we were well known about as a minority group, but when I started at the University of Greenwich in September of 2013, our SU President had no knowledge of what a Care Leaver was. This was due to no fault of his own, but a fault in the system that refuses to recognise us – and this struggle continues.

When I was elected as the University of Greenwich Students’ Union (SUUG) first ever Disabled Students’ Officer, I I wanted to change the systematic erasure of Care Leaver student and passed a policy that meant that Care Leavers would no longer be hidden, but supported.

But when I attended the NUS Zone Conference and asked the then NUS Vice President of Welfare, Colum McGuire, what he was doing for Care Leavers, he didn’t even consider them a “Liberation Group” (a broad term to describe groups of protected status).

Group Photo - OfficersInstead, the odds are stacked against Care Leavers making it to University.

Care Leavers, due to their background, are significantly more vulnerable to suffer from mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. They have to become independent quicker than most young people, especially when support is greatly reduced from the age of 16, while the average young person becomes fully independent around the age of 27.

Care Leavers may not even have a home to return to outside of term time if they go to a university far from where they originate.

With regards to housing, many Care Leavers are supported in flats of their own, which are given to them by the local authority. However, if they were to leave the local authority for university then they’d instantly lose that flat. This fear deters many from attempting to get to university.

Then there’s the quarter of women who leave care are pregnant or are already mothers. While it’s not impossible to be a parent at such a young age, it does put severe difficulties and limitations on going into university.

At Plymouth, I am already facing After discussing my planned policy written as a motion to pass at the UPSU with a member of the officer team.

When I suggested the possibility of a student wide referendum they said that they didn’t think it would go well and that care leavers wouldn’t want the spotlight on them.

UPSU declinded to comment further, and the NUS Scotland President Vonnie told us: “ The NUS is dedicated to representing care leaver students and we work hard to ensure care leavers have the resources they need to access a high quality education.

“The NUS is part of the National Network for the Education of Care Leavers and meets regularly with the Care Leavers’ Association and Buttle UK. We have done extensive training in Scottish institutions about care leaver support and presented to UCAS.

“In June, NUS hosted a roundtable involving care leavers to discuss their needs and future projects. We have been working to improve the experience of care leavers in education, in particular by helping to improve the SLC’s guidance documents and application forms to make student finance applications easier.”