Sheffield Hallam University has become one of the first universities in the country to sign up to the Care Leavers' Covenant, to demonstrate its commitment to support young people who have experienced the care system.
The Care Leavers' Covenant is an opportunity for public sector organisations to act as 'corporate parents' and deliver on their collective responsibility to help children leaving care make a good start in adult life.
Sheffield Hallam offers tailored support to care leavers from application through to help finding jobs after they graduate and is one of the first universities to adopt the Covenant.
The Minister for Vulnerable Children and Families, Edward Timpson praised the University for its support for care leavers in a speech earlier this week (Tuesday 25 October) at the Prince's Trust Care Leavers' Conference.
He said: “There is a moral obligation on all of us to play a role in supporting care leavers. We know that care leavers have problems accessing education, training and employment opportunities, so we’re working with colleges and universities to encourage them to sign-up to the covenant.
"And I’m delighted to say that Sheffield Hallam University and Hugh Baird College in Bootle have agreed to be early signatories.”
Key areas of support at Sheffield Hallam include the 'Compact Scheme' which is a dedicated contact for advice during the application process including visits to the University; access to careers advice; and, for applicants to certain courses, access to a workshop to help prepare them for interview.
Care leavers can receive financial and wider on-course support including a £1,500 bursary and help to find year-round accommodation. There is also access peer support through the Care Leaver Buddying Scheme, which allows more experienced care leavers to mentor new care experienced students.
Steven Hawksworth, a care leaver from Huddersfield, is a final year education studies student at Sheffield Hallam. He volunteers for homeless charity Shelter and has just become a mentor as part of the buddying scheme.
Steven was seven when he, his brother and two sisters, all went into care after his mum was unable to cope with four children. He lived with his foster family until coming to Sheffield Hallam in 2014.
He was encouraged to apply to university by his foster parents and his school. He disclosed on his application form he was care experienced and he had support during the application process.
Steven said: "It was important for me to let the university know and then they know how to help. I understand some people don't want to do that but otherwise people don't have any idea what you've been through and what you need.
"I decided to be part of the buddying scheme because if you have someone to talk to who has experience of the system it's easier and you can relate to them. Sometimes you feel like you're not supposed to be here and it's important to talk about that."
Steven's dissertation is focusing on care leavers' experience in higher education and he hopes to go on to study a Masters in social work after graduating.
"I did modules on social justice and equality and it made me realise that's what I wanted to do. Without my social workers I wouldn't be here now so I want to give something back and help other people in similar situations to me.
"My advice to other care leavers is to be determined; it's worth it in the end. Coming to university is an investment in your future. It increases your chances of getting a good job and proves people wrong and shows them you can do it."
According to Department for Education statistics, only six per cent of care leavers go to university compared with 38 per cent of all young people. Around 20 confirmed care leavers enrol at Sheffield Hallam each year.
Sheffield Hallam University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Chris Husbands, said: "Care leavers face a unique and significant set of challenges which can affect their attainment and aspirations from a young age.
"Most university students have support from a network of family and friends which is often lacking for care leavers. We need to become that support network so they can thrive during their time with us and the Care Leavers' Covenant is our commitment to that.
"Our support and advice is tailored to meet individual needs from the start of the application process through to graduation and beyond."
The Care Leavers' Covenant was announced by the Government earlier this year.
The Minister's speech was given during National Care Leavers' Week, which runs until October 30. It aims to highlight the needs of these young people, and encourage the agencies responsible for looking after them to work in a more coordinated and effective way.