The University of Huddersfield is celebrating the achievements of its care leaver students as part of National Care Leavers' Week.
A care leaver is someone who spent time in the care of a local authority when they were a child, with foster families, in residential homes or other arrangements outside of their own family.
National Care Leavers' Week is a chance to celebrate the outstanding achievements of young people who have had to overcome more challenges in their early lives than many face in a lifetime.
Read all about the inspiring stories of four of our care leaver students:
2:1 Adult Nursing
Sabrina Mundtazir is now working as a nurse at a hospital in the north east after graduating in 2021, specialising in care for patients with head and neck injuries.
“I came to the UK as a refugee from Somalia nearly 10 years ago, I did not speak English and arrived with a cousin, who chose to go to London when we arrived. I didn’t want to go to London, and soon I was with a lovely foster family in the north east.
“My foster mum was always helpful and there for me, she motivated me to do better for myself and I especially loved going to school. In Somalia, I had never had the opportunity to go to school at all.
“I had thought about nursing and maybe being a midwife, but after I had a baby I took a gap year and realised adult nursing was what I really wanted to do. You can help people of all ages, and especially working with the elderly is quite rewarding.
“A friend was at Huddersfield and she told me a lot of good things about care leavers, how helpful they are and that there was always a lot of help. She even introduced me to some of the staff who look after care leavers beforehand.
“As a care leaver, I had all the support that I needed. There was always someone there for me whenever I needed help, even with something like childcare. Even my lecturers would help, everyone tried their best, and I didn’t struggle.
“I’ve needed help with my English, but I had academic support and help if I had any emotional issues. There was always someone to talk to if I needed help with my mental health as well as academic issues.
“I also became the first care leaver to represent Huddersfield with the Office For Students during my first year, where I helped give students a voice about their university experience and especially those that were in care.
“It’s a beautiful university that gives a lot of support, especially for care leavers. The support I had was like being part of a family, and I felt like the University prioritised me as a care leaver. They gave me that extra help when I needed it. Anyone in care thinking of going to a university should not give up. If I can do it, anyone can.
“When I was at FE college, I never said I was a care leaver – but when I was at Huddersfield, I felt free to say it. They made me feel like family, I felt that connection to the University and I wasn’t embarrassed to say I was a care leaver.”
1:1 Business Economics
Ruky now runs her own online tutoring business, aimed at helping low income families afford vital extra tuition.
“I arrived in the UK from Somalia as an asylum seeker when I was just 14. I was unaccompanied and was fostered with a family in Slough, where I also went to school. I had problems with bullies, with fitting in and struggled with my GCSEs but I tried hard and got good grades in my A levels.
“I was keen to go to university, but I discovered I was not eligible for funding as my status was DLR – Discretionary Leave to Remain. My council at the time said that my support would end if I became a student – I was at a dead end.
“But after going on an Outward Bounds course in Wales, I became more confident and able to speak in public. They asked me to go to Westminster to speak about my journey at an event, where I was then asked to present to Prince Philip at a Duke of Edinburgh awards event at Buckingham Palace. After that, I was offered a scholarship to come to University of Huddersfield.
“If I could talk about all the support I had at Huddersfield, I’d never stop! There are things we go through as care leavers that anyone who doesn’t come from that background just would not realise.
“They helped with problems I had to deal with both inside the University, but outside of it as well. I cannot imagine what I would have done without their support. Having that support made me feel safe, I had someone I could speak to at any time.
“What I would say to anyone in care thinking about going to university is ‘go’! I know some would hesitate, due to the fear of not knowing what might happen or who will be there for them if they needed support. Care leavers might not have that person who says ‘I am proud of you’, which is something that might hold someone back.
“There’s that fear of not having support, but my experience here at Huddersfield tells me to tell anyone to go for it. You can be sure you have support at Huddersfield, sometimes it is worth knocking on the door to find out.”
3rd year, Law
Haim was fostered in Yorkshire after arriving in the UK from Israel as an eight-year-old. Currently nearing the end of his law degree, he tells us his story and how his legal knowledge helps with his burgeoning career as a football referee….
“I had a bit of a rocky beginning, not knowing English and I struggled to fit in. Deciding whether to go to university was difficult, and there were teething troubles in transitioning from being a teenager to an adult. I wanted to remain in West Yorkshire due to the football and my connections with my foster family, which are really good.
“Initially I struggled to adjust to living away from Leeds, so I left Huddersfield after my first year. I spent the next year at another university, but I decided to return to Huddersfield as I had not really met my potential.
“There was a support network here and I had spent a year at home due to COVID-19. I really care about what I do, and I knew that Huddersfield cared as well so I wanted to come back and get it right.
“When I did come back, I got a 2:1 which was good given I had worked at home due to COVID-19, but the support network helped sort out my planning and how I could study. That made a massive difference, and they helped me so that my goals are realistic and not stressful.
“Football has always been important to me, and now I referee in the Northern Counties East league. Studying law certainly helps with dodgy spectators! You get people for whom watching football is an escape, especially on Sundays, but you always get someone who is grumpy.
“Someone argued with me and said I couldn’t get rid of him as it was public land. I pointed out it was in a school’s grounds, so there was a bit of land law there. It helps you build an argument and can be very practical!
“The University’s support network for me as a care leaver is amazing, I can’t expect much more. Every time I have an issue, even non-academic, I know I can reach out someone.
"Sometimes you cannot talk to friends so it’s good to have someone who knows a bit more than you to get a reasonable response. I don’t know everything, so I know I can reach out to my welfare officer or mentor.”
1:1 Behavioural Sciences
Mark came to the University in his 30s after working in the hospitality industry. He gained a First-Class honours in Behavioural Sciences and is juggling the demands of a Master’s in Psychology with working with homeless people in Calderdale.
“When I left care, nobody suggested that I go to university. I did an NVQ Level Two in Hospitality and then worked as a chef, but I eventually got on board at Huddersfield as an older care leaver. I was very nervous about starting, but it was so welcoming when I arrived here.
“I had mentoring support, plus books and equipment from the Samantha Sykes Foundation, and opportunities to meet other people like me at the University also helped. I always think I can’t do something, and I got anxious but they put a learning support plan in place. There was leniency about submission times which also helped as it was about 15 years since I had had any education.
“The motivation from the care leavers support people was the best support I have had.
"I knew that they were here for me, it was not just a service and then you were passed on. Things are looked in to – as soon as I left a meeting, I know they would be on to it and I would get an update a couple of days later.
“That is so important for people from our background. There will be feelings of rejection, not being wanted and you have trust issues – but it is all taken care of. My university experience was made so much smoother and more comfortable because of the care leavers group.
“I say to anyone thinking about going to university after being in care that it is much better than you expect – there is genuine care there for you. They throw support at you, in fact they cannot give you enough. They do that little bit extra, you are not a number - you are a person to them.”