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‘There’s a lot of stigma’: why do so few care leavers go to university?

There are 72,000 children in care in England, and they face far worse life chances than their peers. They face a much higher risk of homelessness, teenage pregnancy and unemployment. And just 6% of young people with experience of the care system will attend university, compared with almost 50% in the general population.

To address this, the government announced a new care leaver covenant last week, aimed at easing the path into independent adulthood. While it acknowledges that universities already do a lot to support care leavers, it’s asking that they step up their efforts. Several universities have since signed up to the covenant.

Hawa Koroma is a 23-year-old single mother with two children. She left school with just handful of GCSEs after spending her teenage years looking after her younger sister and grieving for her mother, who died of cancer. Aged 16 and pregnant with her first child, she ended up in a care home. “I was lost,” she says. But unlike most care leavers she found her way: she’s now a first-year university student with ambitions to become a child psychologist, Koroma is lucky.

There is available support, though not everyone knows to access it. Koroma credits her personal determination with helping her to succeed. “I knew how much my mum had taken education seriously,” she says. “I was like, ‘I’ll make sure I go to college, finish uni, and become what I want to become’.”

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