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‘It made my return to education possible’- Combined Authority’s 100th Care Leaver Bursary milestone reached


‘It made my return to education possible’- Combined Authority’s 100th Care Leaver Bursary milestone reached

Pictured above: AJ who has benefitted from the Care Leavers Bursary established by the Combined Authority

One hundred young people leaving the care system have now benefitted from a bursary set up by the Combined Authority to fund education and training to support their futures.

The Combined Authority has also reaffirmed its support for care leavers during Care Leavers Week. The Combined Authority is a signatory to the Care Leavers Covenant – a pledge to help those who have been through the care system so they can live independently.

Care Leavers Week, which runs until November 1, raises awareness of people who have left the care system, the challenges they face, and ways to improve support. People typically leave care aged 18, although some leave aged 16 or 17 based on their ability to live independently, and they face many challenges.

Through its devolved control of the adult education budget, the Combined Authority is offering funded opportunities at colleges and training centres for care leavers aged 19 to 22, including a Care Leavers Bursary of up to £1,200 per year, rising to £1,500 in 2023/24.

It also provides care leavers with independent living and financial literacy training and support, free breakfasts at selected colleges, a free bicycle for eligible young people who complete a cycling proficiency test and enhanced careers advice and guidance.

Working with local partners and Cambridgeshire County Council’s Leaving Care Service, the aim is for care leavers to be better prepared and supported to live independently, have improved access to employment, education and training, experience stability and feel safe and secure, have improved access to health and emotional support and achieve financial stability.

One person who has benefited from the bursary is AJ. She started her Level 3 childcare course at the College of West Anglia (CWA) as a 16-year-old and was an excellent and motivated student.

But a change of foster placement and then a move into semi-independent accommodation ahead of her 18th birthday, along with some difficulties in her personal life meant she did not complete her qualification.

She then went on to have a series of short-term jobs in shops and hospitality, with periods of unemployment during the Covid-19 lockdowns and suffered poor mental and physical health.

But by January 2022, AJ, who was then aged 20, was in her own council accommodation and felt settled enough to focus on her studies once more. Thanks to the Combined Authority’s commitment to care leavers like AJ, the CWA was able to enrol her in a one-year course to complete her Level 3 qualification in childcare. CWA also demonstrated their flexibility in allowing AJ to come back and study.

Having access to the bursary, which offered support with travel, lunches and some cash top ups was key to AJ being able to manage financially, especially as Universal Credit is lower for those aged under 25.

The Level 3 childcare course involves a large amount of work experience and would not have been easy to complete alongside even a part-time job.

In September 2022, AJ worked as a teaching assistant in a primary school in the region and now has a nursery practitioner role in a local nursery, working with two and three-year-olds.

AJ said: “The bursary helped me in more ways than one. It helped with transport, lunches, and personal care items and college equipment. Being a young person in care or a care leaver is hard enough without the stress of college and knowing what you want to do with your life. It’s full of making decisions you don’t even know if you’re ready for. The bursary helped with knowing how to budget money, how to prioritise essentials.

“Now I have my own council accommodation, a puppy, and I work full time in the childcare industry. All of this wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t return back to education. The bursary made that possible.”

Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Dr Nik Johnson, said: “Far too many care leavers end up unemployed, in insecure jobs, and are over-represented in the criminal justice system. But with the right support and commitment, we have shown that we can improve outcomes and start to tackle the challenges and unfairness head-on.

“The bursary and other support offered to help care leavers live independently has helped people like AJ realise more of their potential and help them get on in life.”

In 2020, a lower proportion of care leavers aged 19-21 continued in education, employment, or training across Cambridgeshire (44%) and Peterborough (43%) compared to England (53%). But things have improved. In 2022, nationally 55% of care leavers progressed into education, employment, or training. In Cambridgeshire, the proportion was 54% and in Peterborough it was 53%. The pace of improvement is positive, but work is continuing to improve outcomes for care leavers further.

The Combined Authority has signed up to become a care leaver friendly employer and offers guaranteed interviews when Care Leavers meet the minimum criteria.