In this guest post, Natalie Atkinson, a student at the University of Cumbria, recounts her own experience of entering further education as a care leaver and ex-offender. Natalie took part in the Communities of Practice programme: Delivering on the integration agenda for people with multiple and complex needs as an ‘expert by experience’. The project was run by the Social Care Workforce Research Unit (SCWRU) at King’s and Revolving Doors.
Having taken part in the ‘Communities of Practice’ programme run by SCWRU and Revolving Doors Agency as an ‘expert by experience’ I learnt a lot about the professional practices which are intended to support people like myself. Much so called recovery orientated practice for example, is about ‘encouraging’ excluded people to take up education, training and employment opportunities.
However, despite these ‘good practices’, I still experience many barriers on a daily basis including financial, discriminatory, stereotypical views that exist around care leavers and ex-offenders. I had to fight to be accepted into University and be given a chance to prove I was a ‘worthwhile’ candidate as I was not the typical ‘safe’ option that would be guaranteed to succeed. Some people still seem to look in shock if they find out I am a care leaver and previous prolific offender studying a Policing and Criminology degree, but I just highlight that I have got all the relevant experience to be successful. Who’s better to work with those in the Criminal Justice System and Care System? Those people with a degree or those with life experience and a degree? I would have to settle for the latter.
It has only just come to my attention that even though Social Services had closed my case at 21, I am entitled to request support for financial assistance for my undergraduate fees and accommodation as a former relevant care leaver… Not that I am expecting a quick response, as it concerns requesting money from a Local Authority. I would not have known about this support if I had not come about it by chance while doing University work. The question that needs to be asked is how many other former relevant care leavers are unaware of their entitlement to support when accessing higher education between the ages of 21 – 25? From my own personal experience I presume this is a substantial amount of people.
I am now entering my third year at University and have recently started to look for funding for a Masters Degree in Criminal Justice that I hope to start in 2014. Yes that’s right; I want to carry on studying in order to better myself and to be able to be in a position to encourage those who have been ‘excluded’ and ‘labelled’ by society to have the confidence and belief in themselves to return to education, training and employment, and build the future that they deserve. I have taken the first steps by nearly completing a degree and securing employment working as a support worker in homeless hostels through my own determination, but how many other people would have given up due to lack of support, knowledge, confidence and funding?