Care Leavers & University: Farhia’s story

Farhia always wanted to go to university. She remembers people telling her as a child, that a solid university education is the best way to a good career. The outlook of stability, a regular income, not having to worry about how to get by all seemed like good reasons for Farhia to work hard and earn her place at university. 

The statistics really weren’t in her favour. Research suggests, that only about 12% of care-experienced young people continue in higher education, and that it’s even harder for them successfully complete their course. Young people with a background in care have a myriad of additional issues and challenges to work on; from a lack of family support, to mental health and coping with stress, to issues around housing and finances. 

In this respect, the now 22-year-old was no exception. Like 50% of care leavers in the UK, she too had to learn to live with a past that impacted on her mental health. Not an easy thing to do when you’re trying hard to accomplish an academic degree. Initially Farhia put stability and a supportive environment above all else when looking at which University was right for her, as this is what she felt had been lacking during her upbringing. Thus, she only applied to universities in London, which would allow her to stay with her foster family instead of having to move into student halls. The course she chose, too, ticked all the boxes she valued high in terms of offering her the prospect of robust training and a stable well-paid job at the end. 

Then, she chose to declare her care leaver status upon registering with the university, enabling her to access additional support from the university as well as her local authority’s leaving care team. Many universities offer additional services around mental health, counselling and advice, as well as welfare and finances to their care-experienced students, helping them better navigate and manage their university experience. 

University is stressful at the best of times, and for Farhia it certainly wasn’t an easy ride. There were ups and downs over the years, but her perseverance, strong-mindedness and work morale paid off and she completed university with a first in midwifery. 

We asked Farhia about the one thing that she thought was lacking throughout her uni experience, “Knowing about your services! Being able to access things like work experience and job opportunities.”  

The times when having a degree meant landing a job right after university are long gone, especially if young people don’t have access to professional networks or are taught the invaluable skills needed to successfully transition into employment; from CV and cover letter writing, to interview and presentation skills, to being more confident and believing in yourself. 

Farhia had only been with Drive Forward for a month when she nailed a job with a London hospital. She is an active member of our Policy Forum and is taking advantage of working with a professional mentor, who is supporting her with finding a career paths that offers both stability and fulfillment. 

Farhia’s advice

To young people, Farhia would say, “Don’t be scared to let others know of your care leaver status. There is much more help out there for care leavers than you know of!” 

For universities too, she has a suggestion, “Engage with Drive Forward. Especially in this current climate where care leavers are going to have to struggle harder to find stable jobs.” 

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