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Jade Ward, 33, lives in York.
Leaning over the shoulder of a teenage girl as she fills out an application form online for university. I give her a few pointers. She’d come to the service that I run for leavers of the care system, which provides them with support in accessing further education. It always fills me with joy helping young people take a big step to a better future, especially when they’ve come from backgrounds like mine.
I was 14 when my mum wasn’t able to look after me anymore and I was put into care. My foster mother, Joan, was a single mum and lived with her 17-year-old son. I soon realised I had plenty in common with my foster brother. from our vegetarianism to our shared love of rock music. Compared to the chaos of my childhood, life was suddenly calm.
I grew to like living with my foster family, but when I turned 16, I was recognised as an adult by the care system and sent to live in a house for care-leavers. Suddenly I felt so lonely – I no longer had anyone guiding me, so I had no concept of finance and how to pay bills. By the time I was 18, I was living alone in a council flat, struggling with the necessary debts of running a household. I knew I could contact my foster family, and my childhood friends were always a great support, but there was only so much they could do to help.
In the end I spoke to my leaving-care advisor and he set me up with an apprenticeship at my local council, as part of the leaving care team. There, I began to take the voice of care leavers to national events, speaking about my own experiences. In 2013 I started studying for a foundation degree in Children, Young People and Families, before going on to do a masters in Child and Adolescent Developmental Psychology. I was so proud of myself for achieving something that my younger self would never have thought possible. I wanted other young care leavers to know that they, too, could make a better life for themselves.
So, with my knowledge and experience, in December 2020, I took over Become charity’s service for children and young people, called Propel. Now I spend my days supporting those currently in care as well as care leavers-from helping them to access financial support to filling in applications for uni. I want to give them the support I wish I’d had and prove to them that being in care can lead to a bright future.