Hi, I’m Danielle. I’m 24, I have a first class degree, 2 children, a job in the department for education and I’m a care leaver.
Currently, around only 6% of care leavers between 19 and 21 enter higher education. This is such a low number for an opportunity that can really improve your life and I think it’s time we start to change this.
So, for any care leavers that are thinking of attending university, I want to share my experience, the challenges I faced in my journey and the things that helped me to succeed.
After years in the care system, my self-worth was destroyed. I thought that nobody wanted me and that I’d amount to nothing. I then became a mother very young. At 16, I had a son, was living alone, and had no one around me to help. I honestly thought that my life was over. However, at 19, I took the leap to enter education again. As a bit of luck, it turned out that the college course I was taking could get me into university. Through a little bit of research, I found out that regardless of my background, this was an opportunity I could take. I didn’t have to have lots of money, or a stable family, none of that mattered. I would face more challenges compared to my peers, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t do it, it just meant I had to fight a little harder. So, If you want to go to university, you can, and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.
When applying to universities, consider the support they offer to care leavers. You will face some difficulties, but universities offer all types of help to try and counteract this. Some offer free accommodation, financial support, a dedicated care leaver support team and some even offer free places to study. University is a challenge but going somewhere that tries their best to support care leavers will really help you through your time in study. I made the mistake of not considering this and missed out on so much. I worked 2 jobs during university because I was so worried about my finances. If I went to a supportive university, I wouldn’t have needed to do this.
A really important lesson: don’t be afraid to ask for help. As a care leaver, I struggle to rely on other people. It’s always been me against the world. But I’m not a child anymore, and not all professionals let you down. Allow yourself to accept when you need help and have the courage to reach out. I reached out to one of my lecturers when my mental health started to struggle and he gave me the strength to get professional help and start the journey to heal. Sometimes, we have to be a little bit vulnerable to grow.
Finally, set up a support network up around you. This could be friends, colleagues, relatives, foster carers or even your leaving care team. Not only is this key to keep you motivated when things get hard, you need someone to share your successes with. During university, my best friend was my rock. Whatever I needed, she’d always help the best that she could. She believed in me, which helped me to believe in myself. When I received my final grade, my tears of happiness turned into tears of sadness as a realised that whatever I did, my parent would never be proud. That night, my friend turned up at my door and celebrated my achievement with me. Even though I didn’t have family, I had people around me that cared for me and wanted me to succeed. They are the people that pushed me to reach my potential and without them, I’d be lost.
To finish, I want to urge all care leavers to at least explore the option of university. Ask lots of questions, be curious, believe in yourself, and you’ll find that university is an option that you can take. And when you are ready to start that journey, reach out to the Care Leaver Covenant and UCAS who are always there to offer support and guidance.