Federation University is working to help people who have grown up in out of home care thrive in education.
The Raising Expectations project provides financial support, information and mentoring to improve education outcomes for care leavers.
The project was awarded Best Education Initiative at the 2018 Victorian Protecting Children Awards.
Federation University Bachelor of Nursing student Ashten, who asked for her last name not to be revealed, said support through the Raising Expectations program had helped her overcome challenges at university.
Ashten, now 27, lived in residential care from age 12 to 16.
She said a disrupted high school education and a lack of conversation about university at residential care delayed her decision to commence higher study.
“I had to leave school pretty early. Before that I had received a lot of broken education, just due to the amount of schools I had to attend due to relocation,” she said.
Ashten has been working as a personal care worker in an aged care facility in Ballarat for five years.
She said working in the sector gave her the confidence to commence nursing studies.
“I did have to leave school quite early which is probably why I delayed signing up to uni for as long as I did. I just didn’t quite think I had it in me,” she said.
I just didn’t quite think I had it in me.Ashten, care leaver
“It wasn’t until actually signing up and getting involved that I realised there is a lot of support for care leavers here at uni.”
Federation University care leaver coordinator Pearl Goodwin-Burns has been working to support Ashten through her university journey.
She said it was common care leavers had disrupted education backgrounds.
“A lot of them often think because of their education background university is not a good option for them,” she said.
“That is what the project is really trying to challenge – raising those expectations not only for young people in out of home care but for the system and the workers that work with care leavers, because they often don’t think young people in out of home care can look at higher education as an option.
“They can and they will succeed in higher education. They just need good encouragement and those conversations to occur when they are in care.”
Around three per cent of people from out of home care attend university, compared to around 40 per cent of the general population.
A recent independent evaluation of the Raising Expectations program showed that the number of students from care backgrounds has increased at Federation University since the program began in 2016.
“We started with just over 20 care leaver students in 2016 and now have more than 200 continuing enrolments, plus a further group of postgraduate care leavers across the university,” Associate Professor Jacqueline Wilson said.
But Ms Goodwin-Burns said more work was needed to encourage a cultural shift in expectations for young people living in out of home care.
She is working to see care leavers recognised as a separate equity group at universities, just as people with disabilities, aboriginal people and refugees and asylum seekers are.
“There are a multitude of barriers and challenges care leavers face. Other universities need to get on board with recognising that,” she said.
There are a multitude of barriers and challenges care leavers face. Other universities need to get on board with recognising that.Pearl Goodwin-Burns, Federation University
Ms Goodwin-Burns said it was also important conversations about future pathways should happen more frequently in out of home care and include university as an option.
“In an everyday family setting your family would have those conversations with you about your future, what your job might involve and if that includes studying. I think in out of home care it is maybe a once off conversation. It really needs to be a cultural shift in the way we work with out of home care.”
Ashten said had she had conversations about university in residential care she may have taken a completely different path.
“It is about empowerment. There is still a big stigma attached to care leavers. Once you’re an adult and out of the system you begin to figure life out for yourself, but at the time you feel like your future is limited,” she said.
“Kids in out of home care aren’t high risk hooligans. They should be valued and there is a place for them in society in the future.”
Federation University runs the Raising Expectations project in partnership with the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare and LaTrobe University.
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