Estranged and Care Experienced Students tree logo by Leyla-Ann

Care experienced journalist Sophia Hall spoke to Estranged and Care Experienced Students about their care experienced led project and why they do what they do.

How did EaCES start, and in what format?

EaCES was founded in 2016 by a care experienced and estranged student who was frustrated at the huge gap in support for people like us and the isolation that came along with being a student without a family network.

It was initially an Instagram community called ‘Thriving and Surviving’ but, to adapt to the massively growing community, it has  become EaCES – Estranged and Care Experienced Students.

The community now supports refugee, homeless and orphaned students too plus those who are at risk of becoming estranged from their families. Although we initially designed EaCES to support students, a lot of our content is made for all care experienced and estranged people and The EaCES Handbook has now become a hub to help anyone growing up and through adulthood with limited family support.

Who runs EaCES?

EaCES is run virtually by students and recent graduates from the community across the UK and Ireland. There are over 30 of us with editorial access to build The EaCES Handbook, manage our resources and run our social media. It is very laid-back with no time commitments as we want it to be an easy going space that people like us can easily share their ideas and support

Why do estranged and care experienced students need this platform?

To fill the gap in support in an alternative, grassroots way and to take back control of our narrative. Unfortunately there is still a huge lack of centralised support for students – and people – from our backgrounds. And the support that does exist isn’t always as joined up or intersectional as it needs to be.

We created this platform because we all found that we needed some form of a toolkit or survival guide for higher education and beyond that just didn’t exist. Likewise, a lot of the existing platforms that claimed to give a voice to us were often at best sensationalist and headline-driven and at worst exploitation and demanding of our unpaid labour, stories and recounts of trauma with nothing given in return.

We wanted to make our own platform that gave our community the option to own their own voices so people had an option to speak up directly and not be exploited through a third party. We also wanted to make a platform that highlighted other care experienced, estranged, orphaned and refugee people, their work and their stories.

Can you tell me more about the Handbook?

The EaCES Handbook is EaCES’ main project. We launched The EaCES Handbook during lockdown in 2020. It is a virtual guide full of useful tips and official support to help everyone from our community in their higher education journey and beyond.

The Handbook is written by estranged, care experienced students, orphaned and refugee students and exists to bring together information and advice to help other students from the same background – including official support, our own experiences, and practical tips. Currently the Handbook covers over 30 topics including support and signposting around areas such as: accommodation, activism, applying to university, becoming estranged, benefits, bereavement, careers advice, claiming your culture, a community creative corner, domestic abuse, emergency help, employment rights, grants & scholarships, healthy relationships, homelessness, LGBTQ+ students, life skills, meeting others from similar backgrounds, mental health & wellbeing, networks and socities for and by CE&E, official charities & organisations, PhDs, mature-students, self-confidence, sex education; stalking & harassment, students with disabilities, student finance and unlearning unhealthy behaviours

What other projects do you run? (eg. Discord/Pen Pal)

Our main projects remain The EaCES Handbook and our social media platforms as these work towards our central mission: ‘to provide a central safe space that signposts to everything our community needs in one place, with a particular focus on supporting access to higher education’.

However, we have also:

  • Created The Unheard Stories Project (#UnheardStories) to allow people to submit, anonymously if desired, anything they would like about their lived experiences. This could be a photo, a video, a quote or a wee story, etc.
  • Created a pen pal exchange for all UK care experienced people and estranged offspring (adults estranged from their parents) in the UK to connect with others in our community.
  • Worked with UK and Irish universities to up their offers of support and improve their signposting for care experienced, orphaned and estranged students.
  • Lobbied UCAS, OfS, Department for Education, charities and widening access organisations to recognise the unique and intersectional challenges our community faces, especially with regards to accessing, remaining in and graduating from higher education.
  • Ran a Festive Cards Project to send out festive packs to almost 60 students and recent graduates from the community, which we hope to repeat in 2021.
  • Currently working on contacting all schools and colleges to raise awareness of students like us and the support available. It is super important these conversations take part earlier than leaving school so that students like us can see the options open to us from a young age and not feel we cannot go a certain direction solely because we are limited by our backgrounds.
  • We are also hoping to create a special mini-guide or letter for them that they can forward to their students, staff and anyone who could benefit from this knowledge.

How can people get involved in the community?

If you would like to get involved in the community, you can follow us on Instagram: @estranged_and_ce_students and Twitter: @EaCES_. If people would like to get more involved in the running of EaCES, you can become an editor of The EaCES Handbook and our resources or an admin of our EaCES social media. You can either dm us via social media or contact us via our special ‘Join The [epic] EaCES Team’ form. You may also find the ‘About Us’ page of The EaCES Handbook helpful.

If you’ve got a project you’d like to share, get in touch! Other posts in our care experienced led projects series include: