A young Magherafelt woman has told how she had 13 different homes as a child and attended seven different schools.
Andrea Glenn (20) told her story of life in care as a group which helped her, VOYPIC, was awarded £591,036 from Big Lottery Fund’s Empowering Young People Programme for the Speaking Up; Leading Out project.
The three-year project is supporting children and young people aged 8-25 years in care, care leavers and foster/kinship families across Northern Ireland.
The young people will take part in activities including personal development, cookery, arts and crafts, training and employability skills, and activity days. They will also produce a resource for schools about young people in care.
Andrea knows first-hand the difference VOYPIC makes.
When Andrea was five years old she was separated from her siblings and parents and told she was going to stay with another family for two weeks. She thought it was a holiday, but two weeks turned into two years, and for the next 15 years she lived in 12 different homes.
Andrea said: “I was five when I was placed into care.
“I thought I was going on holiday, but time went on and I realised this was a permanent thing. I have lots of siblings so they took us one by one into care. My twin Lindsey and I were first to go.
“I’ve never felt settled and I developed anxiety issues - I’ve lived in 13 different homes and attended seven different schools and each day I would wake up and I wonder where I am.
“You never think anywhere is permanent. Even though I’m an adult now I still feel anxious about it.
“People at school used to call me an orphan and tell me I wouldn’t amount to anything. But my experiences have made me the person I am now, and I’m proud of myself.
“I want to go to university to prove that kids from care backgrounds can have normal futures too and try to change the stereotypes.
“Now that I’m older I’ve developed relationships with my siblings and mum again. My siblings are all inspired by me and my mum is really proud – she cried when I told her that I accepted into a university in Wales. I still feel angry at my mum sometimes for not being able to look after us, but we are really close now.”
“When Andrea was in secondary school she did a few courses with VOYPIC which gave her support and helped her meet other young people in care. In the last few years she joined another of VOYPIC’s support programmes and was able to get more individual support to help live independently.
“I liked how VOYPIC were trying to make a difference and it was a good opportunity to meet other young people in care. I have loads of friends now who understand my situation and I’ve gone from being shy, to talking about my experiences at events in front of 2,000 people.
“The new project at VOYPIC is going to make such a difference. The resource for schools would have been really good if it had been in my schools because teachers and pupils didn’t understand and didn’t know what to say to me.
“I want a better future for young people in care and I want them to know that they are just as capable of reaching their goals as everyone else.”
Vivian McConvey, chief executive of VOYPIC said: “At VOYPIC care experienced young people come together, talk and share their experience.
“Our young people are thrilled to be able to create and design a resource for schools and other ways of helping their peers have better relationships with their support networks and communities.
“Big Lottery funding has allowed us to take forward projects and ideas that are important to the young people we work with, “
More information about the Empowering Young People funding programme can be found on, www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/northernireland. Please ring our enquiries line on 028 90 551 455 if you have any questions.