Children from care deserve more help

Every local authority, every team attempting to blend education and
social care in preparation for the creation of children’s trusts,
should take heed of Going to University from Care,(1) a new report
from the Thomas Coram Research Unit at the Institute of
Education.

Only one child in a hundred in care goes to university. While
almost 50 per cent of young people achieve five decent GCSEs; only
8 per cent of children in care reach that standard. That’s a
disgrace.

In the Thomas Coram study, 129 young people who attended university
in three successive years beginning in 2001 were tracked (the last
cohort is still at university). Some had good support from foster
carers and social services – but many did not.

Their stories are harrowing and, sadly, all too familiar. Abuse in
the family or exile from a homeland as an unaccompanied minor is
followed by multiple placements. Often, social workers pay too
little regard to the consequences for instance, of moving a child
from a school immediately prior to GCSEs.

Once at university the undergraduates who did not have supportive
foster parents faced far higher hurdles than their peers. Problems
arose over, for instance, accommodation. “Kameron” was constantly
threatened with eviction because of social services’ failure to pay
the rent and was, eventually, locked out of his flat for a
week.

Lack of an adequate income was another issue so paid work
interfered with academic study while debts mounted. Isolation,
relationship difficulties and lack of emotional support were other
concerns. Only one university had a policy on pastoral help for
children in care at university.

The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 is making a difference but the
interpretation of adequate support for care leavers is hugely
varied across Britain. All children who have had brutal experiences
of family life are entitled to life chances of a Rolls Royce
standard – not just the few.

That requires more ring-fenced money from government and a
different mindset from education, social services and local
authorities.
At present, shamefully, as this report makes clear, the corporate
parent is failing its offspring far too often.

(1) S Jackson, S Ajayi, M Quigley, Going to University from Care,
part of the five-year By Degrees study, commissioned by the Frank
Buttle Trust, carried out by the Thomas Coram Research Unit, 2005

Yvonne Roberts

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