Care leavers 'struggle to cope financially'

A large proportion of students who have previously been in care considered leaving their course

Julia Belgutay

A large proportion of college students who have experienced care are not coping financially, according to a new report

Over four in 10 care-experienced students in Scotland feel they are not coping financially, according to a new report. 

The report, published last month by the Centre for Excellence for Children’s Care and Protection (Celsis) at Strathclyde University, is based on a survey of care-experienced students in Scottish colleges and universities, and says that when care students were asked whether they felt they were coping financially, only 59 per cent said this was the case.

More on this: Care leavers need more support, says NUS Scotland

In depth: ‘Welcome steps’ will bring boost to student support

Watch: ‘Do not underestimate care-experienced children’

Anxiety over finances

“Students who declared disabilities were significantly more likely to state that they were not coping, but there were no trends by gender, age or ethnicity. Students who reporting struggling financially scored significantly lower on all six rating scales, presumably because of anxiety over finances having an impact on all other aspects of their lives,” according to the report.

Respondents told the researchers that the additional financial support available for care experienced students was “very helpful during their studies”. However, despite almost 60 per cent of respondents overall reporting that they were coping financially, “the vast majority of qualitative text reflected financial challenges”.

“Students also reported that they were coping due to making an effort to save money, or working alongside their studies," the report added. "There is an important distinction to be made between coping and comfortable for this group of students. Many students who reported coping qualified this by describing specific skills that they had developed in relation to managing their finances and were clear that whilst using these skills allowed them to manage their finances effectively, they did not diminish feelings of anxiety or financial precariousness in relation to their financial circumstances.”

Holiday periods

According to the report, budgeting seemed particularly difficult during holiday periods, as housing costs and other bills had to be paid, but many financial supports were suspended until the academic period resumes. “While the expectation is that many students work or return to live with their parents during the summer period, the responses here reflected a tendency for care experienced students to be maintaining a private tenancy and have caring responsibilities,” it says.

Linda O’Neill, education lead at Celsis, said: “The headline is that there is a big difference between feeling like they are coping, and feeling they are comfortable.” She explained students had to make difficult decisions to make their funding stretch to the end of the month. “Lots of students face a lot of other barriers in terms of their finances, but what this study shows us is that those issues are compounded for care experienced students.”

She stressed that many of these issues were particularly pronounced over the summer, when many care experienced students did not have the safety net of family to fall back as the other students.

To improve the experience for care experienced students, “nuanced support” was needed, which should be available all year around, not just during term time.

“There will always be people who don’t finish their course, but people will be more likely to stay on if you told them ‘this is your support package for the next two, three, four years”.

“Only about 26 per cent in FE actually sought financial support. If people were telling us they are not coping, you would expect that number to be higher.” 

According to the report, over half of care experienced students had considered leaving. Over 10 per cent of the over 3,000 care experienced students in Scottish colleges responded to the survey.

Karen Watt, chief executive of the Scottish Funding Council, which supported the research, said: "The results of this survey build on the anecdotal evidence we have gained over a number of years. They provide us with a solid base from which, collectively, we can make a real difference and bring about positive and sustainable change for care-experienced students."

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Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay is head of FE at Tes

Find me on Twitter @JBelgutay

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