In 2015, just 6% of young care leavers attended university and in 2014 over 37% of care leavers between the ages of 17 and 19 were not in education, employment or training (NEET). In addition, according to Crisis UK, one third of care leavers become homeless within the first two years of leaving care and 25% of homeless people are care-experienced.
Young people living in care, also known as looked after children, are young people not living with their biological parents due to a variety of reasons. Some of the most common reasons for a child or young person being taken into care include abuse, neglect, family breakdown or a parent or child’s illness or disability.
In 2018, there were 75,420 children in care in England according to the Department for Education. The care system is well established, however young people living in care still face various challenges that hampers their success.
This means that young people living in care are still far behind compared to their peers when it comes to academic attainment and career prospects. In fact, according to the Department for Education, care leavers are unlikely to apply to university and their educational attainment at the end of school is still very low compared to other groups with just 14% achieving 5 A*-C GCSEs (including maths and English).
Young people face multiple challenges as outlined below which leads to these negative outcomes.
Due to the high number of young people living in care in England, there is significant strain on the care system. The majority of looked after children are placed in short or long term foster homes, and there are a limited number of carers in England and each carer will have a limited number of places. This means that young people living in care often have to go through many changes thoughout the year, with 10% of fostered children having had three or more placements in 2018 according to the Department for Education. This instability means that young people living in care can often become withdrawn and develop a sense that nobody really cares about them. They often feel that they have no control over their lives, which leads to low aspirations and attachment issues.
Adoption can provide a more stable living situation, but the number of looked after children with a placement order for adoption has fallen by 44% since 2014. Additionally, according to the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies, in September 2018, there were 2730 children waiting for adoption in England and 41% of these children had been waiting eighteen months or more.
Young people living in care face very tough situations that has far-reaching consequences on their mental health and wellbeing. For some children and young people, being taken away from the home where they have been unsafe will be a relief. However, for many others, being separated from their parents and/or siblings will be extremely distressing. Many looked after children will be placed in a home that is far from where they live or far from where their siblings live. In some cases, they may not know where their sibling is placed.
This distress negatively affects their mental health. They may struggle with triggers (post-traumatic stress disorder) and not be okay with certain sounds, smells, places or experiences. They may also suffer from mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, and struggle with psychological issues such as attachment disorder as they find it difficult to build close, secure, trusting relationships with people around them.
Problems at School
Understandably, young people living in care often struggle at school. According to research from the Department for Education (Care leavers’ Transition to Adulthood 2015) and research from Howard League for Penal Reform (Criminal Care 2016), young people who have lived in care between the ages of 10 and 17 are five times more likely to be excluded from school. They are also more likely to struggle with learning, with over 68% of looked after children being diagnosed with one or more Special Education Needs or Disabilities (SEND).
Together with learning difficulties, they also often struggle with social difficulties at school. Many of them do not want friends at school to know that they are living in care, and this can add to the burden of having to pretend that they are living with a parent or a family member even though they are living with a carer. Many looked after children will also have developed a sense of having to protect themselves and take care of themselves and may struggle with trusting adults such teachers and support staff at school.
GT Scholars seeks to help young people living in care to work around the challenges they face through the Raising Aspirations Programme. This programme will use a multi-strategy approach combining one-to-one mentoring, enrichment days, and skill-building workshops.
The one-to-one mentoring will help them work on their career aspirations and personal development. In a report called Forging futures through mentoring 2018 by The Children’s Commissioner, it was stated that looked after children themselves appear to value mentoring because of the soft skills such as self-belief and confidence that are imparted through mentoring programmes. The report also stated that mentoring has a positive impact on looked after children’s relationships with others.
Many young people living in care struggle with a lack of awareness of opportunities along with low confidence and lack of self-belief and this impacts their academic attainment at school and their likelihood of pursuing certain careers and professional routes after school. However, many universities have teams dedicated to increasing the number of care leavers that apply to and study at their university. In addition to this, many companies are providing work experience specifically to care leavers, especially since the introduction of The Care Leaver Covenant 2018.
The Raising Aspirations Programme will aim to bridge the gap between young people living in care and the universities and companies that want to reach them. The enrichment days and skill-building workshops take place at top-tier universites and companies across London to help these young people to build academic and career aspirations and develop the strategies and skills to achieve them.
If you want to find out more about the Raising Aspirations Programme and how you can get more involved, then contact us today. GT Scholars is a not-for-profit social enterprise and registered charity. Our after-school tutoring, mentoring and enrichment programme is designed to help young people aged 11-18 achieve their academic and career aspirations.