Wednesday 26-06-2019 - 11:00
At the University of the West of Scotland, a group of care experienced students is working to make the university a more welcoming and accessible space for people who’ve been through the care system.
The term “care experienced” refers to anyone who has been, or is currently in care. This care may have been provided in many different settings, including kinship care, fostering, residential and secure care, adoption and being cared for at home with social work support.
The trauma that care experienced people can face can have impacts throughout their whole lives. Care experienced people are massively disproportionately represented in the homeless population, far more likely to experience mental health difficulties and to face unemployment. In terms of education, only 4% of looked after young people went
straight on to higher education, compared to 39% of their non-looked after peers.
So when the care experienced students’ group at UWS first got together, they were determined not only to support each other, but to see what concrete changes the university could make to ensure it became more welcoming and supportive.
As Lee Davidson, one of the group’s organisers, explained: “The university was providing support for care experienced people, but students had to proactively find and access the services that were available. A key priority for us has been getting support changed to an ‘opt out’ rather than ‘opt in’ basis.”
Practically, this has meant the care experienced students’ group has been asked by the university to co-produce their corporate parenting plan to ensure appropriate support is available for all students. A button for care experienced students has also been added to the university’s online student portal, meaning that they can immediately access all support available, and a named contact to speak to. They’ve also recorded video messages for new students to be included in welcome packs.
The group has also been working hard to raise awareness of the issues care experienced students face across the university and beyond. “We’ve been working together with Who Cares? Scotland to deliver a presentation and documentary showing, ‘Understanding Care Experience,’” says Lee. Following the success of the session at UWS, the group has taken the documentary on the road, reaching out to West College Scotland and other local educational institutions to organise showings. The group are also very interested in broadening their partnership with Who Cares? to involve other organisations.
“We’ve been showing this to all staff and students, not just those with care experience. After one showing, a lecturer approached us and said: ‘I think I’m care experienced.’ He didn’t know.”
“This just shows the importance of raising awareness around care experience, and making sure that we always talk about ‘care experienced people’ rather than ‘care experienced young people.’ The issues that care experienced people face continue throughout their whole lives, and don’t just disappear when we turn 26. Unfortunately, the bursary for care experienced students is only available to under-26’s, and we think that’s not fair.”
While they’ve achieved a fantastic amount in a short space of time, the UWS care experienced students’ group has got big plans for the year ahead, both locally and nationally. If you would like to make contact to learn more about their achievements or explore working together, then get in touch!