26 October 2020

University of Sheffield enhances support for student care leavers through Care Leaver Covenant

In celebration of Care Leavers’ Week (26 October - 1 November), the University of Sheffield has announced it has become a signatory of the Government’s Care Leaver Covenant (CLC).

A shot of a male student from behind walking alone down a road.
  • The University of Sheffield committed to the Care Leaver Covenant (CLC) to further enhance its offer to care leavers studying in Sheffield
  • The CLC has endorsed findings from Sheffield-led research advising on 15 areas universities could improve their offer to care-experienced students
  • More than half of students in the study, who had all spent time in care, seriously considered dropping out of higher education and 68 percent experienced mental health problems whilst studying

In celebration of Care Leavers’ Week (26 October - 1 November), the University of Sheffield has announced it has become a signatory of the Government’s Care Leaver Covenant (CLC).

By committing to the CLC, public, private and voluntary sector organisations pledge to enhance the support available for care leavers making the transition to independence and help them to succeed in higher education.

In a testament to good practice, and in acknowledgement of the ‘powerful contribution’ that care leavers make to the student population, the University of Sheffield has also expedited all of the recommendations cited in Pathways to University from Care, further updating its offer to care-experienced students.

Student care leavers offer a powerful contribution to their university community, but it was clear from our research that sometimes universities don’t know what to do to support them.

Claire Johnston

Research Associate at the University of Sheffield

The nationally acclaimed findings from the report, published by University of Sheffield academics, Dr Katie Ellis and Claire Johnston, include a charter of 15 evidence-based recommendations for universities hoping to support care leavers. These include:

  • providing pre-entry support to help overcome barriers to accessibility
  • offering bursaries and financial support
  • appointing dedicated care leaver champions to offer a lifeline for students with no family support, give them confidence and help them navigate university systems and budgets
  • offering year-round affordable accommodation
  • working with local authorities so information available to potential students is consistent and easy to understand

Dr Katie Ellis, a Lecturer in Child and Family Wellbeing at the University of Sheffield and author of the report, said: “We are very pleased that the University of Sheffield has pledged its commitment to care leavers and that it is now looking at extending this offer to include support for staff with care experience.

“The Care Leaver Covenant has worked with us to champion our recommendations as an example of best practice and we are encouraged by the response from the sector as a whole. Implementing these will make a positive contribution to the experiences of care leavers and ensure that much needed support is offered as a minimum standard for those making the transition to university from care.”

Pathways to University from Care consulted 234 care leavers from 19 universities about their experiences of accessing higher education. It found that care-experienced students were feeling unsupported and lacked information about where to reach out for help.

More than half of the students surveyed had seriously considered dropping out of university, most commonly due to a combination of health issues, money worries, personal and family issues and struggling to manage their workload. It also found 28 per cent of care leavers arrived at university on their own, bringing only what they could carry on public transport, and 41 per cent were no longer in touch with their carers.

During his time at the University of Sheffield, Mojtaba Darazkan served as part of the project steering group which informed the findings of the report. He said: “The experience for a care leaver can definitely be very scary and worrying. I was the first person to attend University in my entire family, and most of the time I would question myself if this is the right decision, and if I will be able to finish university like others do? Many worries were out there in my head while at university, such as, can I do this? Do I have enough money? Where do I stay in summer time?

“In my case, I needed more support to have a better understanding of where I am going and the plan for the future after moving from London. So support from the local authority, social services, social workers, support workers and the university can have a big impact.”

The report urges universities to offer bursaries to new and graduating care leavers. More than a quarter of those surveyed said their Local Authority had provided inconsistent information about available financial support, with some describing being denied support after being promised financial help initially.

A number struggled to manage financially when they arrived at university because they were not yet able to access either their student loan or university based financial support, leaving some unable to take part in freshers’ week activities, so the team now plan to draft further guidance to help local authorities support students transitioning into higher education.

Claire Johnston, a Research Associate at the University of Sheffield who worked on the report, said: “Student care leavers offer a powerful contribution to their university community, but it was clear from our research that sometimes universities don’t know what to do to support them.

“The students who participated in our research had made it to university despite facing considerable barriers, barriers that don’t necessarily fall away when they arrive on campus such as; educational disruption, family and emotional upheaval and significant financial difficulties with many lacking a strong support network.”

Now 25, Mojtaba finished his journey in higher education. Graduating with a Masters in Applied Professional Studies in Education, he now works as a maths teacher in Sheffield and said he definitely recommends higher education to other care leavers.

He added: “Make sure you find out all the support you are entitled to, ask all the questions you can think of, there’s no such thing as a stupid question. Push your social worker and support worker when you need anything, get all the things you need sorted before you start university and have a clear understanding of how university life will be before you start.

“Once you graduate, make sure you take pride in the fact you are from a care background and mention that in every interview you go to. It is hard to achieve when you are from that background, so definitely be proud!

Study with the University of Sheffield Health Sciences School


Notes to editors

  • Full report available here
  • The research and findings from the Pathways report has also been endorsed to its members by the CLC and has been well received across the sector; championed by National Network for the Education of Care Leavers, the Office for Students, Universities UK and the Russell Group

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