'No support for education': Life in care

When Shakeela moved into a children's home in Birmingham three years ago, aged 15, she was in the middle of her GCSEs and determined not to let the emotional upheaval of leaving her family disrupt her education. But she got precious little encouragement from anyone else.

'Everyone considered my education was not important,' she said. 'They tried to tell me that I should concentrate on . . . what was happening around me and forget my education. They just didn't understand how important it was to me and to my future.'

At the home she felt she was mocked as a 'swot' and she was given no financial help to buy books. But despite the trauma of being uprooted from her home, Shakeela managed to concentrate on her studies and passed six GCSEs. She is now taking three A-levels and has been offered places at two London universities.

Shakeela's self-motivation enabled her to succeed but she is in a minority. According to the Who Cares Trust, a charity for young people who have been in local authority care, 75 per cent leave with no qualifications. This is hardly surprising given the results of an Audit Commission census which showed that on average 30 per cent of children in residential homes did not attend school.

Shakeela's experience also backs the commission's conclusions that many authorities have no programmes to help young people prepare for leaving care, often to live alone. 'The only preparation I am getting for the big wide world is cookery lessons once a week,' she said.

'I could do with help in how to fill out forms, who to go to for advice on what benefits I will be entitled to. Here we are in a home with people looking after you. Then suddenly you are on your own . . . It's just not good enough. I feel lost.'