A new survey has found that the 60,000 young people in care in this country do not receive the same sporting chance as their peers – either at school or in local sports clubs.
The survey, carried out by the Football Foundation and The Who Cares? Trust, a leading charity who promote the needs of young people living in residential or foster care, found that only 18 per cent of such children participate in school sports. That figure – less than one in five children – is well below the national average for participation in sport. The Who Cares? Trust fear that barriers to participation in sport, such as lack of parental support, could be perpetuating the alienation of those in care, leading to lower educational achievement and higher exclusion rates from schools. Several research studies have already proved that academic success can be enhanced if children are given sporting opportunities. Hence the importance of ensuring that sport is delivered to those who most need it.
The survey also highlights the unique role of sport, particularly football, in reaching out and engaging with disadvantaged groups in society. Many of the respondents spoke of sport not just in terms of physical exercise but also as a way of socialising with their peers. Peter Lee, chief executive of the Football Foundation, said: “It's not just about playing sport to get healthier, it is also important for kids in care to gain the social benefits sport has to offer.” Figures show that 37 per cent of children in care have been excluded from school with only six per cent, on average, gaining five GCSEs. Moreover, 75 per cent of people in prison have at some time been in care and Lee added:
“Sport can help vulnerable young people integrate into society, improve their life skills and enjoy their schooling. It is vital they're given more chances to participate.” Lee also believes that the most pleasing aspect of the survey was the percentage of responses from ethnic minority male groups, traditionally the most difficult to reach. “Now we know what they need and how schools can reach out to them, we can start engaging with them,” he added.
The findings of the survey will now be investigated in more detail with The Who Cares? Trust working with the Football Foundation on an in-depth research project. Susanna Cheal, chief executive of the trust, said yesterday: “Young people in care have told us that sport increases their self-esteem and improves their relationships with people of their own age. But the vast majority seem to play sport with friends and not with a school team. If schools could harness this interest in sport, it could be for the long-term educational benefit of these under-achieving young people.”
By Gareth A Davies
1 November 2004