Voices of Care Leavers

4th June 2013

NIACE is highlighting care leavers’ experiences and the impact that being in care has had on their lives and their engagement in learning, through a new publication called Voices of Care Leavers.

During the last five years a range of support has been introduced designed to improve the educational outcomes of care leavers, but care leavers are still far more likely than their peers to not be in education, employment or training (NEET) and far less likely to achieve qualifications, enter higher education, or gain employment. This has consequences throughout and in all areas of their lives – not just as a young person recently out of care, but as they mature into adulthood, become parents and citizens.

Voices of Care Leavers highlights eleven stories written by care leavers who share their experiences about what has and hasn’t worked in supporting and inspiring them to engage in learning. Each story includes insightful reflections about the services that support them and how support could be improved to better the experiences and lives of young people in care.

Kathleen, one of the care leavers who shared her story with NIACE, is a teenager who has been in care all her life. She said:

“I was 5 years old when I went to my first foster placement – I didn’t know what was happening and I was scared as I came to live with complete strangers and didn’t have any of my birth siblings with me. When I turned 6 I moved to my final foster placement. I have lived with these people for 12 years. I refer to them as mum and dad. They are such wonderful, caring, loving people and I couldn’t wish for better foster parents to take care of me.

“I have faced so many challenges – I have come across drugs, alcohol and peer pressure. My behaviour and peer pressure got the better of me when I made contact with my birth family again. To get back on track I decided to join the Army cadets, where I got the opportunity to visit the Queen for her diamond jubilee. This made me proud and feel worth something. I also learnt discipline, First Aid and I helped the community and the elderly. It just shows you that hard work pays off.

“Being in care has taught me that I can relate to people that are going through similar situations. Be an individual and have your own opinions. Choose your route in life and go with it, but know mistakes will happen along the way but you can put them right as I have through my life.”

Nicola Aylward, NIACE Project Officer, said:

“The most powerful advocates for effective learning and support for care leavers are care leavers themselves. We hope that Kathleen’s story and the others featured in our publication will encourage and inspire other young adult care leavers, and also enable practitioners and policymakers to gain a deeper understanding of their experiences and needs.”

Carol Taylor, NIACE Director Development and Research, said:

“Whilst some young people have excellent experiences of the care system and receive consistent and effective support, far too many do not, and, as a result, face difficulties and disadvantage throughout their lives. NIACE believes that the learning and skills sector has a social and moral responsibility to enable these young people, many of whom have had very bad experiences as children, to have excellent opportunities as adults.

“This means joining up at a local level so that these young people are supported with their housing, benefits, childcare and other needs in order that they can access suitable opportunities, achieve and progress. We need to challenge and overcome the negative stereotypes, insensitivity and lack of compassion shown by many. We need to celebrate the diversity, determination and resilience of care leavers and support them to have and achieve high aspirations.”