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Mike Berry. Photo credit: Westopher Baker

Law student’s project aims to empower children in care

A first year University of Exeter Law student has founded a project focused on improving the prospects of children in care.

Michael Berry, who is also a self-employed paralegal with the Fostering Foundation, is a care leaver himself and believes not enough is being done to give the child a voice and empower them with the self-confidence to have an active role in deciding their future.

The Avolve project aims to improve pupil performance at GCSE level, with currently only 17.3% of children in care achieving five A*-C level grades.

Michael explains: “As GCSEs act, in general, as a deciding factor in our futures, it is important that young people are supported at this stage of their lives. Unfortunately, not all children have equal levels of opportunity and support. To tackle this, we have set up the ERA (Employability, Recreation, Academia) programme; a stage based model that works alongside plans utilised by the government. The aim was to cover what was missing in existing structures.”

Avolve actively engages children, pairing them with student mentors who academically tutor them and take them out for recreational activities. Mentors also encourage the children to take an interest in possible careers and establish a relationship with a chosen sector. This may be through arranging an hour long placement, a day of work shadowing, or even a coffee meeting with an employee from the business.

If the child is interested in taking their passion further, then their mentors can establish a career plan, identifying how educational and extra-curricular activities can develop their pathway. An example of this is the ‘Business Mentor Scheme’, which is run by Avolve to encourage members of the business community to be contacts for this sort of support.Altogether, there is an emphasis on unlocking “underdeveloped ambition” amongst these children.

Michael believes there is a visible difference between the plans set by Avolve and other PEPs (Personal Education Plans), with the latter often focusing on targets, regional issues, and financial accountability; leaving little room for the child’s voice.

The Avolve team is divided into three groups: expansions, marketing and mentoring, and has received further support from all sectors. Enactus, an international students entrepreneurial society, helped Michael set up the project through providing funding, contacts and networking. The Enactus committee oversee and evaluate all ongoing projects.

Funding has been secured from ASDA, Ernst and Young and Santander, with Santander also offering to match any money fundraised individually by the team. The Avolve Ball and Michael’s participation in Men’s Health’s ‘Survival of the Fittest’ run are two events that hope to raise money for the project. Support has also come in training for all volunteers by Teach First, which was funded by Enactus Exeter.

Michael has high hopes for the future of Avolve; research is going to be undertaken with the Psychology Department to speak with children in care about their circumstances. This process aims to produce qualitative results, remaining subjective to each child. It is hoped that this will produce an understanding of where children struggle and how they overcome it.

Discipline and Society Based Volunteering projects can be seen on the Students' Guild website.

Further information concerning Enactus can be found on the Enactus website.



Date: 28 August 2015

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