Supporting care leavers

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AMOSSHE Insight: supporting care leavers

This project, undertaken by Anglia Ruskin University, assesses the resilience levels of student care leavers in both university and private accommodation, with the aim of developing and trialling a needs-based support package to increase resilience and improve retention.

Project leader: Conrad Sackey, Head of Information and Advice, Anglia Ruskin University.

Total award from AMOSSHE, with support from Unite Students: £2,000.

Anglia Ruskin UniversityFind out more about the project:



AMOSSHE, in collaboration with Unite Students, is supporting a series of member-led projects related to the theme “student resilience in an accommodation setting”. 

These projects extend sector knowledge about how Student Services professionals can develop student resilience, specifically within a student accommodation setting, and contribute to the development of a sector-wide student resilience toolkit.

Unite Students


‘Going to University from Care’ (Jackson et al, 2003, 2005), commissioned by the charity Buttle UK, is one of the few studies that focuses on the experiences of care leavers in higher education. The study identified key areas where the practical needs of care leavers were not met during their higher education experience. The rationale for this project arises from the factors identified by the Buttle UK study: 

  • The lack of emotional and practical support available to care leavers was found to place additional pressure on them, resulting in lower retention rates. Concerns included having suitable accommodation all year round, and financial issues, mainly related to budgeting and securing adequate funds. 
  • Jackson et al (2005) highlighted that care leavers experienced similar barriers in higher education as other disadvantaged students, but the issues they presented were more complex. This indicated that care leavers required more support to help alleviate the extra pressure they experienced in trying to navigate the existing support available.
  • Research identifies three key strategies for improving outcomes for care leavers: increasing resilience, improving the transition process from care into higher education, and promoting educational attainment (Stein, 2008; Mallon, 2007; Munson, 2013).
Mallon (2007) conducted a retrospective study that documented how care leavers returned to higher education as mature students with new-found resilience. McIntosh (2017) supported by Stein (2008) summarised that the external factors that have a positive impact on a care leaver’s level of resilience are the ‘protective factors’. These include a secure positive relationship with a parent or substitute, achieving academic success, having supportive social networks, developing emotional maturity through taking part in social events, and developing coping strategies through being exposed to challenges within secure environments. Studies conducted on the resilience of care leavers who successfully graduated highlight that more care leavers could achieve success if they could overcome the barriers they face through having access to ‘protective factors’ (Jackson et al, 2005; Munson, 2013; Stein, 2008; Driscoll, 2011).


Aims and objectives

This project, ‘Developing and increasing resilience within care leavers, in a student accommodation setting, with the aim of increasing student retention’, aims to make a practical and essential contribution to the existing research on care leavers in higher education, with the potential for wider applicability. 

The project seeks to make use of a customised resilience scale to assess the resilience levels of student care leavers in both university and private accommodation settings, with the aim of developing and trialling a needs-based support package that will increase their resilience levels and improve retention rates. The project will therefore test the effectiveness of the resilience scale in identifying the level of resilience of the student care leavers (emotional control / self-management) and the impact of the support package in meeting the diverse needs of these students (support networks) in increasing their resilience levels and retention rates. 

The project will: 

  • Measure the pre- and post-intervention levels of resilience amongst care leavers based in the university residential setting and private accommodation, through the use of a contextually relevant resilience scale. 
  • Explore qualitatively, and identify at least three barriers that care leavers face within the university residential setting.
  • Develop a practical care leaver support package to enhance care leavers’ resilience in university accommodation, with the aim of increasing retention. 

The research questions will be refined as themes emerge during the study and where certain aspects of the methodology prove more effective than others. The key questions are: 

  1. What are the current levels of resilience amongst care leavers based in student accommodation, and based in private accommodation?
  2. What are the views of care leavers about the barriers they face within the university setting? 
  3. How might the university support care leavers to overcome barriers through increasing resilience based on the findings of the study? 
  4. How will increased resilience amongst care leavers increase retention within care leavers as a group? 



The project methodology will involve six key phases of research: 

  1. The development of a social and contextually relevant resilience scale based on the customisation of the Child and Youth resilience measure.
  2. The customised resilience scale will be used to measure the pre-intervention resilience levels of two samples of care leavers: one living in a university accommodation setting and the other in a public / private accommodation setting. 
  3. The project team will conduct focus groups based across the Cambridge and Chelmsford university campuses. Semi-structured interviews will be used to gather the care leavers’ perspectives on the barriers they face within their student accommodation settings. Their responses to the resilience scale will also be explored and rich qualitative data will be gathered about the impact ‘protective’ factors have on their resilience. A paid trained researcher will lead the focus groups in a sensitive and consistent manner across both campuses. The focus groups will be recorded and transcribed in preparation for data analysis.
  4. The qualitative data collected will be coded and analysed. Information gathered from the focus groups and semi-structured interviews will be used in combination with literature reviews to develop the framework of a needs-based care leaver support package designed to increase resilience. Although the outcomes from the research cannot be predetermined, the team anticipates developing a range of digital and non-digital resources, such as a digital app, a mentoring system, and workshops, amongst others, to improve resilience in care Leavers.
  5. The care leaver support package will be trialled across the Cambridge and Chelmsford campuses, targeting the initial samples of care leavers over a minimum period of three months (one semester). The project team will then use the customised resilience scale to measure the post-intervention resilience levels of the initial two samples of care leavers, with the aim of determining any change in their resilience levels.
  6. The final phase of the project will be to evaluate the effectiveness of the customised resilience scale in identifying care leavers with low resilience levels, and the effectiveness of the support package in increasing the resilience levels of those care leavers with low resilience.


Intended outputs

The project outputs / products will include:

  • A written report on the project findings with recommendations on wider applicability of the findings, including the resilience test questions, focus group discussion topics, the researchers’ reflections and data, and considerations about how to proceed in the future.
  • Resources used in providing the support package. These are likely to include work books, digital information specific to care leavers on Anglia Ruskin University’s mobile app and website, a buddy scheme, and links with external stakeholders who support care leavers.
  • A presentation for the dissemination of the findings of the project.


AMOSSHE, The Student Services Organisation is a UK non-profit professional association. Company registration number 4778650.
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