From foster care to university

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Dorcas came into foster care when she was 14. Three years later, aged 17, she has received an offer from Oxford University to study law. She tells us how she decided to take her future into her own hands, and what it needed to defy the statistics about care leavers.

I came into care when I was 14 and I would say that, at first, it had a major impact on the way I viewed life. For quite a few months I felt disadvantaged and I believed that my circumstances would define the rest of my life. I thought that my academics would suffer as a result of being in care. However, over time I realised that the way I was thinking wasn’t having a positive impact, so I decided to change my perspective. Rather than viewing being in care as a disadvantage, I started to see it as an opportunity to change the stigma around care leavers. I used my circumstances as a motivation to achieve the best that I possibly could in the hopes of inspiring others in similar situations.

The importance of stability

My current foster carer has gone to great lengths to integrate me into her family and has introduced me to all her extended family. She has provided a stable environment for me which has allowed me to focus on my academics and has contributed to my academic success. She has also maintained belief in me and always encourages me, even when I doubt myself. When I received my offer to study at Oxford, I was shocked and elated. It was great to see that the positive perspective I had adopted hadn’t been in vain. I also saw my offer as a new platform that I would be able to use to connect with other people and help others. I’m really looking forward to going to university as it is an opportunity for me to expand my knowledge on the subject I love, which is law. I’m also excited to meet new like-minded people. I must admit that I do have fears sometimes of how I will cope financially with university. I am aware that, unlike my peers, I’ll have to pay for accommodation in the holidays as I don’t have a family home to return to. However, I try to remind myself that with a positive perspective all obstacles can be overcome; and while I have these fears, I don’t let them discount all the positive factors of going to university. At the moment, I am focusing on getting the grades required to meet my offer from Oxford.

University is for everyone

I chose to study law at Oxford because I am extremely passionate about the subject. While it was daunting applying to such a prestigious university, I viewed the application process as an experience, which regardless of the outcome would have remained invaluable. The other universities I applied to were great academic institutions too, so I would have been happy regardless of where I went. I think applying to university is an achievement in itself. My message to young people in care who are wondering whether university is for them is that it definitely is. University isn’t just for one typical type of person, university is an experience that everybody is worthy of. With determination, focus and passion it is achievable. In the future I hope to get involved in access and outreach work to help other care leavers to take the leap to apply for university.

Enabling children to reach their full potential

The most important thing that foster care has taught me is the importance of perspectives. I genuinely believe that the perspective you take on in situations can change the outcome. While some situations are inherently negative, it is possible to make something positive out of them, by taking the perspective that after the rain comes a rainbow. I would like to tell everyone who is considering becoming a foster carer that it is such an amazing thing to do. A stable and loving home is something that all young children deserve, and I am so appreciative that someone opened their home up to me. However, there are so many other children, like me, who need the same opportunity: a stable environment they can thrive in. To those who think they can provide this I would say that they should go for it. It’s such a rewarding experience to be involved in helping someone transform their negative experiences into something positive.

Room for improvement

If I could change anything regarding foster care, it would be that local authorities should try to do more to encourage children in care. I think it’s important to communicate to young people that they have potential and that their circumstances don’t have to deter them from achieving. Many children in care do not have family members to instil this message in them, thus I think social workers should try and provide this encouragement for them. Knowing that someone believes in you enables you to believe in yourself.