My foster family made me believe I was capable of achieving great things

Steven Hawksworth is a care experienced young adult who has just completed an undergraduate degree in Education Studies.

I was in the Care system from the ages of 7-18. Thankfully I only had one long term foster placement with a very education centred family who had all completed degrees and postgraduate qualifications, something which my birth family had not.  As my foster carers both hold degrees and post graduate degrees, and because I had a long period of time with them, I was able to share their passion for education.

Having a stable environment rather than changing placements like other foster children I feel this definitely helped as education should be a smooth process. My foster family always made me believe that I was capable of achieving great things and I have now come out of university with a 2:1 degree. Had I stayed with my birth family this wouldn’t have been possible.

Upon leaving the care system I embarked on my Academic journey to Sheffield Hallam University where I have just completed my Undergraduate degree in Education studies. I have just been offered a place to do a MA in Social Work at The University of Sheffield to hopefully become the Social worker who can improve social inclusion of minority groups such as Care leavers.

My undergraduate research was exploring the experiences of Care leavers in education.

What lead me to choose this topic was my own experiences of having spent time in the care system and the shocking university enrolment figures from Care leavers. Currently only 7% of Care leavers attend university (DfE, 2012) compared with 48% of the general population (DfE, 2016). I wanted to know direct from the Care leavers themselves why this was the case.

I feel Care experienced individuals often have their voice ignored. What is your experience of care leavers and university?

RESEARCH SUMMARY

My study aimed to explore the educational experiences of adult care leavers as children and young people.

Rich data was gleaned by conducting interviews and questionnaires to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the factors that impacted upon people’s experiences of education. 37 care experienced individuals aged 18 to 64 years from England and Scotland responded to a request to fill out detailed questionnaires about their educational experiences and the support they did or did not receive to help them progress. Respondents’ educational success levels varied from no educational achievements to those who had attained doctoral qualifications. The majority of participants claimed that they would not have achieved the levels of educational attainment had they not been in the care system. There was little evidence of the disengagement by Care Leavers’ in the educational system that the literature indicated, all of the participants in this study reported that they felt that education was important.

The study’s findings indicate that the Care Leavers had a very varied experience of the education system. Some people found that their school provided the support that they did not get elsewhere. There was an example of one young person who was homeless relying on the school facilities to shower and wash clothing with teachers going above and beyond their duty of care to provide the looked after young person with food and Christmas presents. Other people found being in care was very stigmatising. There were a number of references to being ‘cut off’ from classmates either through their peers’ lack of understanding of what they were going through or because of formal systems that meant they could not participate in everyday activities such as trips at school or informal opportunities to make friends and feeling ‘normal’ e.g. sleepovers. One respondent said they felt ‘detached and unlovable’ another that they felt ‘less of a human.’ Participants reported not feeling a sense of belonging and this was exacerbated in many cases by placement instability and a lack of any one individual with responsibility for engaging them in education.  Only 15% of the respondents reported that their social workers had effectively supported their educational journey.

The study did find that a positive relationship with an adult role model, and the emotional support that comes with this, can have a significant impact upon the individual’s experience.

Steve.westney@gmail.com

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