Covid-19 will hurt key sectors of the economy, cast a shadow over our day-to-day lives and restrict our personal freedoms for some time to come.
It will also have a deep impact on the lives of our children, in particular those who have been in the care of the state, more commonly known as care-experienced.
I worry that the pandemic could create a lost generation by reducing vulnerable youngsters’ contact with the teachers who so often inspire them to consider further and higher education as a passport to a different life.
Believe me, I have been there. At difficult times in my own childhood, I had to be cared for by people from outside my own family. School was my safe space – a place to rest as well as learn, and many of my teachers made a lasting impact on my life.
Like others with care experience, I left with few qualifications but returned to education in later life through a widening access programme. My own experience, coupled with my passion for working with this group, led me to manage HUB for SUCCESS.
A year-and-a-half on from the formal launch, I believe the Edinburgh-based pilot represents a model which could in time transform the lives of thousands across Scotland by tackling the stark inequalities now being underlined anew by the pandemic.
The HUB is a potential game-changer which addresses the poor educational outcomes for care-experienced people in two main ways. Firstly, we give individual support and advice to those considering further and higher education.
We are a one-stop shop. It’s not only about what course will I choose, but where will I live, who will pay my living costs and where will I go when the halls of residence shut over the holidays.
Secondly, the HUB champions the improvement of local practice through partnerships and wider collaboration. We operate from the city centre Customer HUB of one of our core partners, the City of Edinburgh Council. Our other core partners include five universities and two colleges; Edinburgh Napier, The University of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt, Queen Margaret, the OU in Scotland, Edinburgh College and Newbattle Abbey College. This unique collaboration remains at the heart of the HUB, providing both financial and advisory support and direction.
The work can be harrowing. We listen to students crying on the phone; frustrated, frightened, and lonely and isolated without family support. We offer reassurance, reminding them that they have dealt with much worse and pointing them towards help.
The end results can be enormously uplifting; when you get the call from Simone, a care-experienced single mum of two, to say she has completed her degree with a distinction and her two children have also been offered places at college. When Gemma says a simple thank you for helping get her cooker connected so she can focus on her studies. When Tony chats excitedly about moving from college to university and how we have inspired him to follow his passion for politics.
Our work doesn’t stop with the individual though. We press for the continuous improvement of local practice and policy development, recognising that the care system is an unwieldy beast which sometimes struggles to support young people from complex backgrounds.
The current lack of school and the safety net which direct contact with teachers provides is a particular concern. Care-experienced students cite teachers as the most influential people in their educational journeys, yet if you are care-experienced you are still more likely to see the inside of a prison cell than a lecture theatre. In 2019, Scottish Government statistics note that of over 6,109 care leavers in Scotland, just 23 went straight from school into higher education at both college and university.
We need to recognise that education is part of our care system and educate teaching staff about the unique needs and challenges this group face. While data and professional knowledge are important, meaningful, positive change is best driven by lived experience; the HUB does this by consulting with care-experienced students and translating their views and experiences into solutions. Our group requires education and social services to work together and function on their behalf to open up educational opportunities.
To keep moving in the right direction, projects like the HUB for SUCCESS must not only remain but grow in capacity. Over the past 12 months, it has delivered tailored support to more than 140 individuals across Edinburgh to help them find a path to get into and stay in education. If the programme was expanded across Scotland, we could quickly improve on that figure of only 23 care-leavers moving on to college and university.
We have here a solution which can drive change – one which provides strong social and financial return and can have generational impact.
Lorraine Moore, Manager of the Edinburgh-based HUB for SUCCESS