Life outcomes for people who spent time in the care of the state as children (‘care-experienced’) are known to be significantly lower, on average, than for the general population. The reasons for this are complex and multidimensional, relating to social upheaval, disrupted schooling, mental and physical health issues and societal stigmatisation. Previous studies across several countries have demonstrated that they are significantly less likely to participate in higher education and more likely to withdraw early. However, little is currently known about their outcomes after graduation.
This paper therefore explores the initial outcomes for the 1,010 full-time students identified as care-experienced within the cohort graduating from an undergraduate degree programme in the UK in 2016/17—the most recent year for which data are available. They were found to be slightly more likely to be unemployed and less likely to be in work (and particularly professional work) than their peers, but, conversely, more likely to be studying. These differences largely disappeared once background educational and demographic factors were controlled.
The paper discusses the relationship between care-experience and other sites of inequality, concluding that care-experienced graduates are crucially over-represented in groups that are disadvantaged in the graduate labour market—e.g. by ethnicity, disability or educational history. This intersectional inequality largely explains their lower graduate outcomes. While there are important limitations with the data available, this speaks for the transformational potential of higher education in enabling care-experienced graduates to transcend childhood adversity. Recommendations for national policy and local practices conclude the paper.