Last month Government minsters set out the need for a ‘cultural change’ at universities to encourage more care leavers to stay in higher education.
Currently just 6 per cent of young people leaving care go on to study at university, and those who do are more than twice as likely to drop out – but a remarkable young woman has beat the odds to show what care leavers like her are capable of.
Judith Cossey, 25, from Washington, is studying for a Masters degree in Practice Development at the University of Sunderland. She has overcome childhood neglect, growing up in care and issues with drugs and drink. Though it has been a difficult road to university for Judith she is now making a new life for herself and her young family.
Judith says: “When I was four months old I was placed onto the child protection register due to neglect, and in December 1995 my mam left myself, my two older brothers and my younger sister alone at home, and failed to return. We were all placed into emergency foster care.
“My dad remarried and I moved up the North East with him, but my behaviour started to spiral downwards. At the age of 13 I was moved out of the family home into a children’s home, where I stayed until I was 18.
“I ended up leaving school with not many qualifications, but I decided to go straight to college to study Health and Social Care.”
Judith moved out of care and into her own flat, but a destructive relationship led to her abusing drink and drugs. She became pregnant at 18, and lost her flat.
“I moved back in with my step mother and cleaned up my act. I wanted a better life for me and my son so I decided to go back to college.”
Judith came to the University of Sunderland to study for a Health and Social Care degree, graduating in 2017. While at university she had been supported by the University’s Care Experienced Students Support Team. One of the things that students like Judith value most is always having someone looking out for them on campus, whether this is to help with academic support or just for a coffee and a chat.
“They were a massive support for me during my studies,” says Judith. “I completed my top up degree in Health and Social Care in 2017, and then proceeded onto my Masters.”
Now Judith is in a new relationship and has three children, Mason (6 years), Eliza-Rose (16 months) and Alexander-Thomas (12 weeks old).
Judith admits it is hard to juggle children and study. “It’s hard to leave them at home so you can go to class,” she says, “But the University’s Care Experienced Students Support Team have been a huge support during my studies and I don’t know what I would do without them.
“Even if it is just for a quick chat or a whinge about something not relating to university, they are there for you. They are more like friends than workers, and they really like babies!”
The Government’s new Higher Education Principles published on 14 March this year set out how universities should do more for young people leaving care by providing them with personal support as well as giving them money for course materials and to fully experience student life.
The University of Sunderland’s Care Experienced Students Support Team meet with each of the University’s care experienced students to produce a bespoke support plan. This is based on the student’s individual needs and can include help with finding accommodation 52 weeks a year, wellbeing support, additional financial support and finding part time work.
Universities Minister Chris Skidmore said: “Everyone, including young people leaving care, should have the opportunity and the support to thrive in university and go on to succeed. Care leavers taking up a place at university face different pressures to their peers, but we are determined to stop them from dropping out due to challenges beyond their control.”
There is little doubt that the support that young people like Judith have received has had a massive impact on them and on their families, and she wants to see more students like her at university.
Judith says: “The best advice that I would give anyone thinking about studying at Sunderland is to stick at it. Although things may seem impossible at times, there is always a way to resolve it. If you are feeling down, talk to people. Friends you make at university are friends for life.
“Never feel as if you are alone during your time at university. No one is ever alone.”