To close care leavers’ week, we make our boldest call to action: to make care experience the 10th protected characteristic. This is on the basis of the stigma, direct and in-direct discrimination that too many of the care-experienced people we work with face.
This is particularly prevalent in the areas of education and employment. In the former, numerous looked-after children can see their care-experience as a reason for a teacher’s lower aspirations for them. One of our policy forum members recounted being advised to take ‘lighter’ subjects owing to the many challenges she had going in her personal life. This was proposed instead of providing initial support, allowing her care experience to disadvantage and hinder her future opportunities.
She was advised by her teacher: ‘You may not get through it. You may not complete it.’ It was only her passion that motivated her to continue with more ambitious choices. With educators, sometimes with the best of intentions, advising caution in ambition on account of care experience combined with a lack of resources and support, it is hardly surprising only 6% of 18-21 care leavers make it to university; and them also being nearly twice as likely to drop out than other students (Department for Education, 2019).
Stigma and discrimination is also often experienced in the workplace. Those who have used our employment services have found themselves in positions where they have been forced to give full disclosure of their past due to an inability to provide documentation or information on account of their care experience. Currently there are no mainstream mechanisms to account for such complications that can arise from being care experienced in the workplace. This is one of the reasons Drive Forward Foundation provides its corporate partners with practical training and support, equipping managers with the knowledge and skills to better support care-experienced young people in the workplace.
Reflecting on the issue, one of our policy forum stated: “It’s like the system has already predetermined our future before we had a chance to have a say, we are constantly fighting to not be a statistic.”
Drive Forward supports a rights based approach to improving outcomes for care experienced-people. Our peer led policy forum can think of fewer better ways to realise this than to enshrine care experience as a protected characteristic.
HEAD OF POLITICAL ENGAGEMENT