“I lived in a hostel for 2 years without electricity or heating while I graduated”

A young Londoner who grew up in an institution until she was 18 hopes to raise thousands of pounds to support herself financially and settle her overdraft before starting a postgraduate course in September. Having left her host family’s home at the age of 18, Sophie Scarlett moved to a hostel and lived there for the first two years of her undergraduate degree.

While a majority of undergraduates usually stay in university accommodation or continue to live at home with their families, Sophie lived in a hostel. The 21-year-old, who now lives in social housing in Ealing, said living in the hostel sometimes “was a lot”. She kept busy and avoided spending her free time at the inn by studying late at the library or working, sometimes returning around midnight or after.

She told MyLondon: “Having to pay or buy groceries while I was living in the hostel at the same time was a lot. I had silverfish, the fridge was using electricity. I was coming home to home and I wouldn’t have electricity or heating. I was just staying to myself and going to work or college.” Shortly after moving into the hostel, Sophie began bidding for council properties and eventually moved out when she was in her third year.

READ MORE: ‘I welcomed 3 teenagers when I was 25 – and now I think I always will’

Sophie grew up in an institution from the age of three until she was 18

Sophie was first taken into care when she was three years old, before being taken into foster care when she was six years old. Although her foster family was initially going to put her up for adoption, Sophie says they decided against it because no one wanted her. She lived with her adoptive parents and their biological children until she was 18 and describes the moment of her departure as bittersweet.

Remembering her adoptive parents, Sophie said: “They are really lovely people, they always made me feel like part of the family. To learn about other people’s cultures and go to family gatherings, I would always be there. I will always consider them my parents.” Sophie considers herself to have multiple families, adding, “because of my upbringing, family is what I choose it to be.”

Despite a difficult life situation and mental health issues, Sophie graduated from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London with a 2:1 degree in Acting, Applied Theater and Education. “I was so shocked because I didn’t think I was going to get a 2:1,” she added.

As a person who has been taken into care, Sophie belongs to the minority who pursues higher education at the age of 23. It is estimated that only 11.8% of people who have been taken into care enter higher education at this age, a 2019 study found. Compared to some 40% of people with no healthcare experience who enroll in higher education, the contrast is stark.

The same study found that some people with healthcare experience chose not to go to college because they didn’t think they were smart enough to attend, some were concerned about the expense, or prioritized getting started. to earn money sooner than to continue their studies. Several factors that influence a care-experienced person’s decision to pursue education include support from schools and colleges, level of aspiration and belief, and support to get to college.

“It’s easy to fall into the stereotype”

Sophie says she is well aware of the statistics and misunderstandings people have about the experienced care community. She said: “So many people have misconceptions about growing up in care – it’s so easy to fall into that stereotype of not going to college and not having an education.”

She added: “Everything about being taken care of is like you don’t belong. People think we’re all mean, I had a few rough starts but I never fought.”

Sophie grew up in an institution from the age of three and campaigns for therapy to be compulsory for people in the same situation: “Imagine being taken out of your home and simply being asked to live in a new home – therapy should be mandatory.”

After being offered a place on a PGCE course in September, Sophie hopes to become a drama teacher or drama therapist – although because she chose to study drama, Sophie says she cannot access a government student loan. This means that she has to finance everything herself while continuing to live independently.

She is currently working two jobs in retail and as a teaching assistant respectively to try and save as much as possible before starting the course in September. Most of the time, Sophie starts work at 7am and doesn’t finish until 10pm at the latest. The money she saves from her two jobs and hopes to raise funds through her GoFundMe will go towards her rent, bills and car insurance – as well as paying the £5,000 overdraft fee she racked up as an undergraduate.

“I never wanted to set up this GoFundMe to get free help. I work overtime – it’s so tiring but I’m not just going to let people help me, I can’t rely on them – so I have to save, save, save,” she added.

In February 2022, it was announced that every 18-year-old leaving care in Wales would be offered £1,600 a month under a new Welsh Government Basic Income pilot. The pilot will be tested for at least three years, in the hope that it will improve the support available and assess the impact this has on people leaving care at the age of 18.

Buying necessities such as clothes for work is more difficult for Sophie, who relies on Klarna to pay for her purchases in monthly instalments. “If I want to buy myself clothes, I have to do it through Klarna – (like) work tops for teaching jobs,” she adds. If England were to follow in the footsteps of the Welsh government, young people with caregiving experience might not have to rely on Klarna to buy essentials such as clothing or food.

Welsh Minister for Social Justice, Jane Hutt, said: “Too many young people leaving care continue to face significant obstacles in their successful transition to adulthood. Our Basic Income pilot project is a exciting project to provide financial stability for a generation of young people who need it most.

“The pilot will build on the existing support available to children in care in Wales and will ensure that young people who take part in this pilot project receive all the support they need to give them the best possible chance of finding their own life. path in life and emerge from better, easier and more positive care.

“We are fully committed to supporting people living in poverty, ensuring that they receive adequate financial support so that everyone in Wales can live a happy and healthy life.”

You can learn more about Sophie’s journey and donate to her GoFundMe here.

Are you a Londoner who grew up in an institution? How was it for you when you left support? Please contact Ruby by writing to her at [email protected]

At MyLondon we do our best to make sure you get the latest news, reviews and features in your area.

Now there’s a way to keep up to date with areas that interest you with our free email newsletter.

West London’s newsletter comes out twice a day and sends you the latest stories straight to your inbox.

From Hillingdon to Harrow, Southall to South Kensington, we’ll make sure you get the best every day.

To sign up for the West London newsletter, simply follow this link and select the newsletter that’s right for you.

And to really personalize your news experience on the go, you can download our top-rated free apps for iPhone and Android. Learn more here.

Linda G. Ibarra