Today is World Voice Day. WC?S has supported the voice of Care Experienced people for over 40 years. Here we share the story of one of our members, Carol, and how she supports Care Experienced students to have their voices heard in her role as Care Experienced Officer at Fife College.
You could say I didn’t start life under the best circumstances. My medical notes will tell you that I was born womb-starved and with foetal alcohol syndrome. After a catalogue of incidents, neglect and reinstatement attempts, I was removed from my biological family and placed into foster care.
But luck was on my side. I was eventually adopted by a loving couple, who were unable to have children of their own. They knew my background, my issues and the possibility that I’d present learning difficulties, yet they wanted me.
Growing up, I was classed as the “problem kid” due to my background and that my adoptive parents “shouldn’t expect too much from me, academically”. My parents just wanted to protect me and I guess I was wrapped in cotton wool. I used to feel that my parents were being strict and overprotective, and would rebel at any opportunity, but what I didn’t realise at the time is that they simply felt so blessed to have me in their lives that they just wanted the best for me.
I went to university straight from school, but found the whole experience so overwhelming that I dropped out after my first year. This was a particularly difficult time – I felt like I had let people down and that I couldn’t achieve anything. Life had its ups and downs – my relationship with my adoptive parents wasn’t always perfect and there were times when we drifted apart, but I knew they were always there when I needed them.
In 2014 my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and unfortunately passed away in the September. But before he passed away, he asked me to make him a promise to do something I had a passion for – to go back to education and pursue my goal. So in 2015 I returned to college to do a social care HNC, I started the course as a late starter and a mature student, which had its own barriers but I fought through and completed my course.
In 2016 I enrolled onto the HND Social Sciences course at Fife College – but at this point I was 6 months pregnant with my 3rd child and was hesitant and anxious about starting my studies. I considered postponing for a year, but my partner said no, you can do this. So I did. I took 5 weeks off college to have my baby, then returned and completed my first year.
My experience of this course has been amazing, it has changed my life. During the summer period between Year One and Two of my HND, the college invited myself and others to attend training to become a mentor for the “Heroes” mentoring programme. This was a pilot for a project where Care Experienced Students would be paired up with new Care Experienced students, as a support channel throughout their time at college.
Due to this training, the Students’ Association (FCSA) identified a need for a Care Experienced Officer role to be introduced, and I jumped at the opportunity to be the first to hold this post, offering support other Care Experienced students as well as to the other mentors. As well as doing my course and this role I also volunteered on the college committees and board of governors which was amazing to have a CE student present at executive level discussions.
My hard work and commitment to these roles were recognised when I was offered two scholarships from the college, as well as the Fife College Student Association Outstanding Achievement Award, which was such a huge honour.
Feeling like nothing could hold me back, I ran for election and was named Student President for Education and Representation and was awarded a Highly Commended Student of the Year award.
I also enrolled with the Open University to complete 120 credits towards my BA (Honours) Social Sciences which I aim to complete by June this year.
Through working closely with the college and student’s association I have been involved with many projects aimed at helping Care Experienced students. We have our Champions Group, fundraising projects, awareness days, and corporate training sessions which involve Care Experienced students sharing their personal stories.
I am also fighting for there to be a dedicated member of staff to work solely with Care Experienced students to help with issues like funding, support, mentoring, etc.
My hope is that I have fought for changes that will continue to benefit Care Experienced students when I am no longer at the college.
It is vital that the voices of Care Experienced students are heard. Student engagement and achievement should be at the heart of the college, and that includes all learners. Care Experienced students face barriers that others don’t, we need to recognise these barriers and put steps in place to support and nurture them so that they can reach their full potential.
I was told that I would never achieve much academically – but I’m now an award-winning student and mum of three who’s fighting to ensure all Care Experienced learners are fully supported. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved, but I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the love and support of my family and the FCSA. I’m aware that not all Care Experienced people will feel like they have such champions, and that’s why we need to continue celebrate and fight for the Care Experienced individuals around us!