Barry Keoghan and the importance of role models to care leavers 

Role models can be important for young people, providing examples of constructive action and perspectives that can help with their development. They can also be someone they can aspire to be when it comes to education and future career paths, as our research into the role of Student Ambassadors as role models in Wideninng Participation found. 

Such models can often be missing in the lives of care-experienced students, who rarely see people from similar backgrounds in the public eye. This is what makes the Oscar nominee and Bafta winner Barry Keoghan so inspirational.  

The Irish actor, who appears in The Banshees of Inisherin, has spoken openly of his experience in foster care as a child. Although he was later raised by his grandmother, he believes that the instability of moving between 13 different foster homes over a seven-year period made him stronger and more solid in life. 

His ability to overcome the stigma and barriers that many care leavers face has resonated with some care-experienced people. One woman told The Independent: “When you hear stories like that it is a light and it motivates you because you’re like, ‘OK, if he can do it, I can do it. I can be the best version of me’. And it definitely pushes you and drives you.” 

Go Higher West Yorkshire (GHWY) recognises the huge contribution that care leavers can bring to HE. However, we also know the challenges young people face when they leave the care system and begin to live independently can be different to those faced by students from other backgrounds. These include worse educational and employment outcomes, an increased risk of homelessness, and mental health issues.  

This is why we have created a bank of care leaver stories. These are designed to help young people be inspired by the educational journeys of others as they start to consider their own options.  

Drawn from across our 13 members, the stories include a young woman who achieved a 2:1 in Adult Nursing and now works as a nurse, and an asylum seeker who gained a 1:1 in Business Economics and now runs her own online tutoring business. The young people also share tips on transitioning into HE and the support that is available at their HE institution. 

We have also produced the country’s very first collaborative Care Leaver Covenant, which makes it easier for care-experienced young people to access the support, information and top tips offered by our members in one, easy to navigate document. 

In addition, we recognise the importance of creating a supportive educational environment in which care-experienced young people can succeed. This motivated us to develop the innovative Care to Go Higher CPD programme, which equips key influencers of care experienced young people to support them to make informed HE choices. We have also piloted an e-learning module called Understanding and Supporting Care Experienced and Estranged Students, which aims to improve understanding of and empathy for these students among HE staff.

We hope that our resources and staff training will help to improve the life chances of care-experienced young people, but the importance of people such as Keoghan speaking out and starting a discussion about care experience should not be underestimated. 


Susan Darlington, GHWY Partnership Assisstant