Institution to independence

I started university at the age of 23 after spending 10 years in care homes and psychiatric hospitals. Throughout those years one of the things that kept me hopeful was my dream to go to university. Since I was young, I imagined going to university as a way out of my life, a way for me to achieve freedom and create a different life to the one I’d always known. Throughout my years institutionalised I had a lot of interactions with professionals, including Social Workers, Mental health nurses, doctors, therapists, police officers, support workers. A large majority of my interactions consisted of professionals not understanding my life experiences, making judgements, thinking they know what’s best for me and feeling sympathy towards me if they did understand. All of these were not helpful for me building my identity and progressing as a person, especially since I was a young age. Through all the therapy and interventions, I’ve had the interactions I found to be the most critical to my progress is when professionals would just treat me as a human. They wouldn’t feel sorry for me or try to control me, but they’d talk to me like I was just a person about normal things.

What do I mean by being treated as a human being ?

“Just having regular conversations about dogs or tv shows or doing art activities with me. Instead of having timetables meetings to discuss my progress like lac meetings, ward rounds, therapy sessions or regulated checks. They just treat me like I was one of the teenagers I’d see on tv just having a normal life. And that’s what made all the difference and made me feel like a human being”

Young person with care experience

Developing my network and opening up my world

My biggest fear of starting university was that I would find myself spending the majority of my time alone, as this was the experience I had become used to throughout my time in care and hospitals. I found there to be a lot of conflict between peers and a lot of negative energy in the care homes and hospitals I was in, so to avoid that I spent years isolating myself and not making any friends. I thought university would be similar, as not only I’d never had the opportunity to socialise properly, but my life experiences would be different to others. However, I quickly found this to be very different.

I remember telling myself that all those fears were in my hands, and they would come true if I didn’t take the steps to make it different. I remember that pivotal moment was my first day in university accommodation. My flatmate told me they had met someone who also studies psychology, in our accommodation, and that I should message them on Instagram. This may seem small to most people but for me this is something I found very overwhelming, due to my anxiety, previous experiences and being very introverted. But I thought to myself I’m scared of not finding people, and if this person is also scared to reach out then this would be a wasted chance for me, so I messaged them, even though I had a panic attack after. And from meeting this friend this instigated a chain of experiences whereby I met the people who are critical to my university journey today and will probably be my friends for life.

“I thought university would be similar…. However, I quickly found this to be very different”.

young person with care experience

Finding stability and resilience within my community

At the end of my first year of university, once I had settled more into my new life, I become more motivated to build my future, having experienced the positive feelings of independence I had wanted for so long. I contacted my Leaving care worker to find volunteering opportunities who put me in contact with Leicestershire Cares.

I thought that Leicestershire Cares would be the organisation I’d be volunteering for, but I soon realised that maybe it was just another service, like those I’d experienced previously, and something I was wanting to move away from, to forge my own life independently. But I gave it a chance and I found Leicestershire cares to be more of a supportive community rather than a typical service. It also gave me a space to voice my personality and passions for my future. I have always been very passionate about helping people from disadvantaged backgrounds, creating systemic change, and fighting for a society that achieves equity. They opened opportunities for me to integrate into my local community. I started volunteering at a local organisation which helped me to develop a greater sense of identity and find a sense of belonging, in a location I had previously never wanted to return due experiences during my childhood.

“I found Leicestershire cares to be more of a supportive community rather than a typical service…. it also gave me a space to voice my personality and passions for my future”

young person with care experience

Building my future

Through Leicestershire cares I found an opportunity to volunteer at a local youth club, which has helped me immensely to build the skills for my future. Over the last 2 years I’ve committed to a weekly group that has enabled me to develop my confidence in a working environment. When I first started, I was anxious and didn’t really know if I’d be any good at the job, a job that I wanted to build my career around. But it helped me gain lots of different experiences and make me realise that this is what I’m supposed to do. Through the general youth club role and the opportunities, it provides me with to engage with other areas of the community, I gained a lot more confidence and resilience. It gave me an opportunity to flip my script on its head and become an observer and supportive figure for others, rather than the one in receipt of services. Within the last 2 years I also became a peer researcher at Leicestershire cares which has helped me to gain the confidence to voice my passions and work towards improving systems that have let me down in my journey. I used to hold a lot of internalised stigmas around being care experienced and having mental health difficulties, and I thought that I couldn’t do the career I wanted to because no one would take me seriously due to my experiences. So, I wanted to keep that hidden in my journey to building my future. However, being a peer researcher has shown me that opening up about my experiences is one of the most powerful ways I can help others and create the systemic changes society needs to see. This has happened for me by me securing a job postgraduation with an organisation that is very aware of my life experiences but saw me for the skills I have worked hard to develop through volunteering and my university degree.

“Opening up about my experiences is one of the most powerful ways I can help others and create the systemic changes society needs to see”.

young person with care experience

My advice

“If I can say anything to any young person who is care experienced or going through any hardship is that be kind to yourself, don’t compare yourself to others and have hope that things will work out. Everyone has their own timeline and journey, even people who aren’t having to deal with the stuff we do, and it’s okay to not have everything figured out. The experiences we’ve had aren’t fair and not our fault and yes, we have to work 10 times as hard to gain an equal playing field, because we’ve been let down or had to deal with stuff, I wouldn’t wish on anyone. But that makes the achievements even more worth it. It’s not easy but you have to hope that it will work out, try to reach out for help, take any opportunity you can, and as hard as it is try not to overthink things. As long as you’re working towards a life that makes you happy and is what’s best for you then ignore everyone else”.

young person with care experience

As a team at Leicestershire Cares we would like to congratulate this young person on their many achievements. They have achieved so much and hopefully given hope to other young people experiencing similar circumstances within the care system.

For further information about our project and our work with care experienced young people please contact

This blog was originally featured by Leicestershire Cares who have consented for this to be shared on ExChange: Family and Community