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We Care at the University of Sunderland during Covid-19

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Published: 22 June 2020

Being a university student is an exciting and often transformative time in your life, but it can come with its stresses too. For many people, the stress can be alleviated by having a strong support system at home who can help with anything from the big issues such as finances, down to smaller things like doing your huge pile of washing at the end of the semester! However, if you are someone who is care experienced or estranged from your parents/carers, there may not always be that extended support system available to you.

The We Care Team at the University of Sunderland is a dedicated point of contact for care experienced students and students estranged from their parents/carers, and they offer individual, bespoke support whenever students need it during their time at university.

Covid-19 support for care experienced and estranged students

During the uncertain times of Covid-19, it has been even more important to have a support system in place for all of our students, and especially for our community of students who are care experienced and estranged.

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic the We Care Team has been in regular contact with the students they support. All students have received a phone call or email and some are receiving regular check-ins. The team even host regular, virtual coffee meet-ups, continuing an activity that they usually run on campus. Above all, they have been as flexible as possible so that our students feel well supported at this strange and difficult time.

To give you an idea of just how much support is available for our care experienced and estranged students during the Covid-19 pandemic, here is a break down:

Financial support

  • Additional funding has been made available via the University Hardship fund – care experienced and estranged students have been prioritised for this
  • Supermarket/food vouchers have been sent to those in need
  • An additional £500 We Care Scholarship payment will be made in July

Emotional support

  • Emails and phone calls to all care experienced and estranged students to check in and offer ongoing support
  • Online video appointments and phone calls with the We Care Team are available. There is also a fortnightly group video call for staff and students
  • There is a closed Facebook group for care experienced and estranged students – the We Care Team can be contacted through this for online support 
  • The University Chaplain is keeping in touch with all students living on campus and within the city and he is referring students to the team (and vice versa), enabling holistic support across the University
  • The team have been making referrals to the Wellbeing Team for further support where needed

Accommodation

  • The Accommodation team are checking in regularly with students who are living on campus
  • Contracts can be extended and accommodation for care and experienced students is guaranteed 52 weeks of the year
  • The We Care Team can act as guarantor for students living in private accommodation
  • Emergency accommodation is available for those who need it

Assessment and progression

  • The We Care Team have contacted all care experienced and estranged students to check that they have access to IT equipment required for online teaching and learning. Where this was a barrier, the team have provided a laptop on long term loan (sent by courier)
  • The team have supported students by liaising with academic colleagues about assignment extensions or extenuating circumstances. This has included cases where, for example, students are feeling overwhelmed by the current pandemic which has triggered mental health issues

The team have also been in touch with applicants who are planning to start university in September 2020 who have indicated they are care experienced or estranged, to reassure them that support is available. Students who are graduating will also continue to be supported.  

The We Care team are sitting at a table in The Studio cafe, smiling at the camera

Excellent practice

Recently the team have been highlighted as an example of excellent practice in a briefing note from the Office for Students (OfS). The briefing note looks at the practical steps universities and colleges are taking to help students without family support during the pandemic and beyond, and our We Care Team have been praised for their tireless work at this difficult time. We are very proud of our We Care Team and the dedication and commitment they show our care experienced and estranged students, especially in these extraordinary times.

To get in touch with the We Care Team, contact care.contact@sunderland.ac.uk or call 0191 515 2216.

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