Care Leavers Reaching University

Shaping best practice through strategy and reform


The project aimed to identify strategies that can be implemented by Brighton and Hove City Council (BHCC) and its partners to increase the number of Brighton and Hove care leavers attending and remaining at university for the duration of their course. It also sought to inform practice with children in care (Years 9 to 12) and care leavers (Years 12 and 13) up to the age of 19.


Aimed at care leavers in Brighton and Hove and the UK as a whole, the project combined statistical research into the number of care leavers in each local authority in England who progress to higher education, combined with interviews with care leaving managers and care leavers themselves, to determine what works in terms of increasing HE participation among this group.  

Proposals containing actions that Brighton and Hove Council could take to improve the number of care leavers attending university were drawn up with the benefit of the following research programme:

  • Review of statistics to identify which local authorities (LAs) have high numbers of care leavers attending university, cross-referenced with the KS4 performance of children in care in these authorities. This data was analysed to identify which LAs are achieving better outcomes (more care leavers attending university) that cannot be explained simply by the educational achievement of children in their care.
  • Interviewing eight leaving care managers in those LAs to identify strategies implemented to encourage and support care leavers to attend university. Interview findings were analysed to determine whether there are common practices among these authorities.
  • Interviewing seven Brighton and Hove care leavers currently at university to get their perspectives on strategies identified during interviews with managers, as well as other strategies that care leavers identified which supported their attendance at university. The interviews also included questions on any barriers they had to overcome and what helped them to do this.


The care leavers interviewed have had the opportunity to have their voice heard and for their experiences to inform better practice within the leaving care team.

A new understanding has been developed about the support needed by care leavers to ensure they have the maximum opportunity to go to university. These findings will be shared within the School of Education at the University of Brighton, leading to teaching and youth work programmes. Reports and recommendations have now been disseminated.

Two toolkits for supporting care experienced students are available on our site – one for students, the other for HE professionals, are available in our Resources section. 


The project’s most significant findings are as follows:

  • There needs to be a flexible approach to the support offered to care leavers. Support needs to be provided at the appropriate stage for each individual rather than being overly prescriptive based on age.
  • The local authorities in which higher than average numbers of care leavers attend university all provide financial support higher than the minimum requirement, especially around accommodation support. All leaving care team managers interviewed said they had a good financial package available to their care leavers.
  • It is important for local authorities to have strong, positive communication with care leaver link advisors at universities from the early stages of the care leaver deciding to go to that particular university. This ensures that supportive structures are in place in advance of any difficulties the care leaver may have.
  • Care leavers must be supported to access the support available to them at university, both knowing what is on offer and having the confidence to make use of it.
  • Care leavers at university should be visited at least every two months as per the requirement for all care leavers. Care leavers need financial support, but significantly they also need emotional support that their personal advisor (PA) can provide by building a positive relationship with them.
  • Mentoring is likely to have good outcomes and should start early to raise the aspirations of care leavers to ensure they know that university attendance is an option for them.

The research indicates that the most successful rates of progression to higher education for care leavers will be achieved if the following recommendations are implemented.

General support to be offered to children in care/care leavers considering/attending university

  • Treat young people as individuals; their views and preferences should be listened to by all involved in their care.
  • Support young people to believe in themselves, and to have the aspiration and confidence to apply to university, attend open days and to remain at university for the duration of their course, even when they encounter challenges (for example, living or financial circumstances, settling into university, course requirements and friendship issues).
  • Personal advisors have a significant role to play in supporting children in care/care leavers who are considering/transitioning into/attending university; with this in mind, their caseload needs to reflect the support these young people need. PAs should have time to visit care leavers wherever they are at university. Ideally, there should be continuity of PAs, so care leavers remain with the same PA where the relationship is working well.
  • Information about financial and other support and advice available for children in care/care leavers when considering/transitioning into/attending university should be easily accessible and available in different forms. For example, this could be through websites, virtual schools, regular training for foster carers, care leavers forums and/or newsletters and mail drops.

Care leaving teams, where possible, should build strong links with local universities so they are knowledgeable about the support offered by the universities and have details of named individuals who can help care leavers to access this support.

Supporting Brighton and Hove children in care/care leavers who are considering applying to university

  • Provide support and encouragement for young people to have confidence in their own ability to apply/go to university.
  • Ensure young people receive information, advice and support relating to potential universities and courses available to them, and deciding which courses to apply for.
  • Provide financial support (travel/accommodation) and assist in arranging visits to universities and attending open days/interviews with a foster carer, homeworker or PA to accompany them if the young person wishes.
  • Provide support with completing UCAS applications.
  • Consider ways that children in care in Years 10 and 12 can be supported to raise their aspirations about going to university. This might include, for example, mentoring schemes with others already at university, and individuals from a range of professions talking about their work.
  • Support and encourage young people to take advantage of any outreach/widening participation opportunities provided by local universities or other providers, for example, summer schools.
  • Create opportunities for children in care/care leavers to meet with other care leavers who attend/have attended university.
  • Establish positive working relationships between PAs and local universities.
  • Encourage discussions about university attendance between the young people, PAs, foster carers, social workers and schools/colleges as well as joined-up thinking between all parties.
  • Provide regular and up-to-date training for PAs to enable them to provide support for children in care/care leavers who are considering attending university. Also make training available for foster carers to inform them of the support, information and advice available for children in care/care leavers who are considering attending university.

Supporting Brighton and Hove children in care/care leavers in their transition to university

  • Obtain written permission from each care leaver for PAs to make pre-entry contact with their university link person to ensure support is already in place should the care leaver experience any difficulties during transition to, or while at, university.
  • Inform young people about the various forms of financial and emotional support available to them for 52 weeks of the year. The information should include details of: bursaries and any other financial help towards the cost of books and equipment; setting-up-home and travel costs; how to access these funds and where to get support if they have difficulties in accessing the funds they are entitled to; and living options, including the Staying Put model, where appropriate.
  • If care leavers are leaving their foster home, provide support to help them access funds for setting up home and to feel confident doing so.
  • Ensure that PAs make regular contact with care leavers. Six-weekly intervals are suggested (although contact may be more frequent when the care leaver first attends university). Also ensure care leavers know that their PA (or someone else in their PA’s absence) is available for them to contact if they need any form of support.
  • Consider setting up a mentoring/buddying system with care leavers already at university acting as a ‘buddy’ for care leavers transitioning to university. Note, however, that care must be taken to ensure care leavers transitioning to university do not become emotionally attached to their buddy.

 Supporting Brighton and Hove care leavers to remain at university for the duration of their course

  • Regularly inform care leavers throughout their course about the forms of financial support and bursaries available, including how to access them.
  • Ensure care leavers know about accommodation options including, where appropriate, the Staying Put model, and are supported in finding accommodation to suit them.
  • Maintain regular contact between PAs and care leavers, and ensure that care leavers feel they have someone to turn to for emotional support, in particular, and support when things go wrong (such as student loans being delayed) to minimise the potential for care leavers to feel they are reaching ‘a cliff edge’. Also, where possible, encourage ongoing support between care leavers and foster carers.
  • Ensure PAs maintain regular contact with a care leaver’s university link person so that contact can be made swiftly between both parties should the need arise. PAs and university link persons should be available to help care leavers access the support they need to help them to remain at university for the duration of their course.
  • Support young people to manage their finances within their available budget.



Care leavers are the most underrepresented group at university, with only 6% attending. Statistically, care leavers are more likely to go to prison than to university. In 2016/17, no care leavers aged 17 to 18 were in higher education and only 8% of those aged 19 to 21 were.


February to September 2018 


Brighton & Hove Leaving Care Team