Duty of care

The Plymouth Fund

Thousands of people of all ages enrol on degree courses in higher education every year. But just 6% of young people who’ve been in the care system go on to study at university, meaning they are one of the most underrepresented sections of society. 

The University of Plymouth has worked to address this situation through its Widening Participation programme, and today, care leavers can be assured of a warm welcome at the institution. Thanks to your generosity, the University is able to provide invaluable bursaries to care leavers and estranged students through The Plymouth Fund

Sarah's story

“One of my friends at university needed her parents to send her money for a filling when her tooth cracked. Another needed his parents to send him money to get the train to a placement interview. Most of my friends return to live with their parents during the holidays, where they don’t have to pay rent. Care leavers and estranged students rarely have these safety nets to fall back on, and have to be fully self-reliant all year round. 

The social services that were responsible for me before I turned 16 completely disregarded me as soon as I turned 16 .Essentially, I was offered no support from that point onwards. I left my foster home and became a homeless ‘sofa-surfer’, moving around different people’s houses as this was all I knew. 

I had been denied my right to an education as a child, due to constantly being moved from foster home to foster home, such that I was never enrolled in any school for more than a few weeks at a time. I desperately wanted to go to school, but from the ages of 13 to 16 I never set foot inside one. Instead, it was an endless procession of foster homes which felt like prisons.

Eventually, I decided to take control of my life and, as a young adult, enrolled at the local college to sit my GCSEs. From that moment onwards my life slowly changed for the better. I completed my GCSEs and Level 3 diplomas at college before finally getting onto the foundation year at university.

To begin with, it was difficult for me to cope with student life because I had never learned the social skills or life skills that people with typical upbringings take for granted.

One of the reasons I chose Plymouth was because of the care leaver awards, which offered me financial help and support. We have a long way to go to give care leavers the same opportunities as other people, and the care leavers’ service and bursary are a step in the right direction. My (non-biological) foster brothers and sisters haven’t fared so well. Some of them have been in and out of prison continuously, and some are struggling to raise young families in debt, relying on state benefits and payday loans. With no role models, others have become trapped in abusive relationships. None of my foster siblings have got their GCSEs, and few of them work. 

Going to university still sometimes seems too good to be true, because I was always made to feel like an inferior person in society, not good enough or normal enough to go to school, and not eligible to vote due to having no fixed abode. 

"Attending university is about much more than getting a degree, it’s a chance to start a new life with good friends, a nice boyfriend with an ordinary family, and a new city to call home. I’ve voted for the first time here in Plymouth. It can be the most valuable thing in the world for a care leaver, and was the best decision of my life.'