Care-experienced people represent only a tiny proportion of the student population in the UK, and as a result, those who go on to access higher education are widely celebrated within the sector. There is a temptation to assume that care leavers who achieve this type of educational success have had more positive and supportive journeys through the care system than most. Yet, as our latest research findings show, many care-experienced students have difficult and unstable care histories and have progressed to higher education despite the challenges they faced.

Our research, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, includes the voices of 234 care-experienced students from 29 universities across England and Wales. Exploring the challenges faced by these care leavers allows us to reflect upon the significant relationships and decision-making processes that shape care for all young people, regardless of their education and career choices.

Many of our participants described confusing and upsetting introductions to the care system, childhoods marked by instability caused by placement and school moves, and frequently changing social workers and personal advisors. Their stories often painted a picture of bureaucratic systems in which mental health support was lacking and the stigma of being care-experienced was perpetuated or left unchallenged.

Our second Findings Report from the ‘Pathways to University’ project puts forward 20 recommendations aimed at Local Authorities, Government and Policy Makers – urging them to accelerate support and promote achievement for all those with care experience.

The following animation captures the key findings from our second report and shares the experiences of young people as they journey through care.

View the ‘Pathways to University: the Journey through Care’ film: