Care leavers across Yorkshire speak out about the challenges facing young people

In pockets of Yorkshire, communities are rising up to support care leavers with innovative initiatives designed to create better opportunities for the most vulnerable in society, showing the vital role that universities and businesses have to play in the region’s social fabric when young people need them the most, Ruth Dacey reports.

Those involved with the life changing projects, including care leavers themselves, have spoken out about the successes and challenges facing young people as improvements over the past four years don’t go far enough to support young people at one of the most crucial periods in their lives.

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For father-of-one Chris Hoyle, who was the first care leaver from North Yorkshire to attend a university in the UK, after the inception of care leavers act in 2001, he has now gone full circle and become a champion on that very campus - at the University of York - where he broke new ground, after spearheading support for care leavers in higher education at the university.

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Pictured Chris Hoyle, (right), with son Oscar. Chris, has become a champion at the University of York for spearheading support for care leavers in higher education at the university. Photo credit: James Hardisty/ JPIMediaResell

Mr Hoyle, an analyst for the widening participation team at the Russell Group university, has been instrumental in driving the University of York, to become the only institute in the UK, from this year to offer free accommodation to all care leaver students for the duration of their study.

The university also offers a UK leading support package that includes a bursary of up to £9,000 over the course of a three year degree, to enable students to study a year abroad and in industry placements, and help arranging and paying for secure storage of belongings.

Currently eight students are benefiting from this - a number Mr Hoyle would like to see rise - and he stressed the need for a radical “shake-up” at other Russell Group universities and other institutes to provide extra support to some of the most vulnerable young people to help them continue studies after school.

He told The Yorkshire Post: “Just by being in care your life is more difficult than those around you and you do require extra levels of support to be able to achieve the same things.

Pictured Chris Hoyle, (left) holding his son Oscar. Chris, a care leaver was the first in North Yorkshire to attend the University of York after the introduction of the Leaving Care Act in 2001, and Milder Ambra (right), who is a student in her second year of studying to become a mental health professional, and has benefited from the University of York support. James Hardisty/ JPIMediaResell

“Care leavers are some of the most vulnerable young people in society yet they have huge potential and so much to offer.

“Free accommodation should be mandatory for universities that can afford it -such as Russell Group universities.”

Mr Hoyle was taken into care at the age of 13 in Scarborough, after suffering physical and mental abuse at the hands of his biological parents. After a rocky few months initially in the care system he found hope from Trevor and Odette Townsend, who became his foster parents when he was 14, after fostering his older brother Jonny a year earlier.

Mr Hoyle, who went to school in Filey, before attending Scarborough sixth form college, described himself as “one of the lucky ones,” to make it into higher education when he went to study computer science at the University of York from 2005 to 2009.

Pictured, Milda Ambra, a care leaver currently in her second year at the University of York. Photo credit: James Hardisty/ JPIMediaResell

He said it was disappointing to see currently only six per cent of care leavers aged 19-21 go into higher education, and those that do are nearly twice as likely to drop out than their peers, according to the Department of Education - a figure that despite increased efforts made in higher education and local authorities, the participation rate has not improved over the last 10 years.

He said: “I never met another care leaver while I was at university. It saddens me.

“It wasn’t a level playing field then and it still absolutely not a level playing field to achieve in life for care leavers.

“All you have to think about is how disrupted their lives are or can be, to realise just how.”

Pictured Back (left to right) Noushin Mostowfi, Service Manager For Care Leavers for Kirklees Council, Keeley Lucas, Care Leaver, Rachel Crossland-Green, Team Leader Leaving Care Team for Kirklees Council, Tom Brailsford, Kirklees Council Service Director For Childrens Services. Front (left to right) Siobhan Atkinson, Chief Executive of Huddersfield Town Foundation, and Maureen Quinn, Head of Children in Care Project for Huddersfield Town Foundation. James Hardisty/ JPIMediaResell

He added: “I would want to see as many care leavers as possible going into higher education.

“Not only do we want to see a diverse student cohort through the door but when they get through the door we are able to help them succeed.”

Mr Hoyle’s call to action is echoed by Milda Ambra, 20, a care leaver currently in her second year at the University of York, studying to become a mental health professional, after being inspired by professionals that have helped her on her journey.

Ms Ambra, who went into foster care with a family at the age of 16 in Cornwall, said she chose the university because it was one of the only institutions to provide “clear help” for care leavers.

She said: “It’s disappointing that when I was looking at university - I had to base it on what support they would offer and found that a lot of universities just didn’t have anything available or didn’t show that they did.

“I’m lucky I found York… but the same opportunities should be available across all universities... I would have liked to have had the option that I didn’t have to rule universities out just because they don’t offer the right level of support.

Pictured (Top to Bottom) Tom Brailsford, Kirklees Council Service Director For Childrens Services, Noushin Mostowfi, Service Manager For Care Leavers for Kirklees Council, Keeley Lucas, Care Leaver, Rachel Crossland-Green, Team Leader Leaving Care Team for Kirklees Council, Siobhan Atkinson, Chief Executive of Huddersfield Town Foundation, and Maureen Quinn, Head of Children in Care Project for Huddersfield Town Foundation. Photo credit: James Hardisty/JPIMediaResell

“There needs to be a lot more support. At the moment there are a lot of barriers to help care leavers succeed… and to be able to reach what they want to achieve.

“There needs to be a lot more support, but also to have it the same across all counties, and have a baseline of what should be offered and councils stick to this. Everyone has got something different based on their county and there is no consistency.”

Professor Charlie Jeffery, the University of York Vice-Chancellor, said: "Care leavers are some of the most vulnerable young people in society, but we know that they have the potential to do great things in the world if they are given the opportunity to thrive in a supportive environment.

"The financial support that we offer care leavers demonstrates how much we value their contributions to our University community, and we are working hard to encourage more students with care experience to consider a higher education degree."

While in West Yorkshire a leading football foundation is offering hope to level up the playing field for care leavers in Kirklees with a £205,000 initiative to boost work skills and life opportunities.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post Siobhan Atkinson, the chief executive for the Huddersfield Town Foundation, said the football club was aiming to support up to 60 care leavers over the next three years, after a growing unemployment crisis for care leavers in the community.

Miss Atkinson, 45, who has more than 20 years experience in the professional sport industry, said: “We want to help that transition - from being in that statutory agency to coming out into the big wide adult world.

“There are a lot of support mechanisms up until the age of 18 or 19 and then it is like all that drops away, because they are no longer a statutory number in a system.”

The Huddersfield Town Foundation, in collaboration with Kirklees Council, will run a 12-week employability and life skills course, for children in care and care leavers, three times a year, run from drop-in centres at Huddersfield and Dewsbury and will cover topics such as money management, healthy eating and CV writing.

“We want to give care leavers ambition - and show that their dreams and aspirations can come true,” Ms Atkinson added.

Of the 255 care leavers currently in Kirklees, 59 of these young people are not ‘work ready’ or have a range of barriers to progressing with their lives, according to figures from Kirklees Council.

The Premier League Charitable Fund and Professional Footballers' Association jointly awarded £155,000 for the new project - a further £49,000 has been contributed by Kirklees Council.

Maureen Quinn, the care leave project manager, from the Huddersfield Football Foundation, said the scheme aims to help young people become “work ready” by providing a range of experiences that will raise aspirations and enhance resilience.

She said: “It’s a vital opportunity to work alongside Kirklees Council to support young care leavers as they enter the next important phase of their journey.”

Children in care are three times as likely to be convicted of a crime as other children in Kirklees, according to figures from Kirklees Council, and 40 children in care in Kirklees (five per cent) were convicted or cautioned for a crime in one year compared to two per cent of all children. While nearly four in 10 children in care in Kirklees have possible emotional and behavioural problems.

Miss Atkinson said: “The more that the Government recognises that having a positive upfront investment into these young people is a much more proactive way then dealing with it when they do fall into the criminal justice system, or they end up being a young person not in education, or training - that doesn’t help anyone.

“It doesn’t help the Government - it doesn’t help the economy, it doesn’t help that young person, it feels like that is just a bad cross for everybody.

“If the Government can take a really proactive stance in funding this area - it will have a much more positive, long term benefit for the community and for the economy.”

Coun Viv Kendrick, Kirklees Council Cabinet member for Children, said the new project would be “vital” in changing and improving young lives.

“Supporting children and young people is hugely important for the council. We’re working incredibly hard to give children in care and care leavers the best possible start in life, as well as the skills to fulfil their potential,” Coun Kendrick said. “Living more independently can be daunting for some care leavers, so we want them to have the skills, experience and confidence which really do make a difference.”

Nick Perchard, Head of Community at the Premier League, added: “We know the challenges facing young people leaving care, and with difficult times ahead for everyone this project has never been more important. By working together Huddersfield Town Foundation and Kirklees Council are leading the way and we hope that Premier League funding will enable businesses from across the area to join together and create opportunities for these young people to realise their potential.”

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