Care leaver offers advice on journey into adulthood

“Don't let past experiences hinder your success, as once I stopped letting my past define me that's when I truly began to live.”

This is the touching and encouraging advice from a former North Yorkshire Council care leaver to young people starting the next chapter of their lives.

We have helped 393 young people make the move out of care to venture into adulthood in the last seven years. Shaun Walmsley, 23, is among those.

He not only shared his positive experiences of living on his own and his ambitions for the future at an event celebrating care leavers’ success, but also expressed his heartfelt gratitude for the life-changing opportunities provided by the authority’s care system.

He said: “Upon leaving the North Yorkshire care system aged 18, I attended Leeds Beckett University to study criminology, graduating with a 2:2.

“I wanted to give back to the authority that had supported me, so I joined the council as an apprentice in the restorative practice unit, which was one of the best and exciting jobs I ever had. However, due to personal reasons, a few months later I decided to stand down from the role.

“I knew my heart was always set on pursuing a career connected to my degree and I am now working transporting prisoners between prisons, courts and police stations – a great job with plenty of opportunity for growth and success.

“I am extremely thankful to North Yorkshire Council for the support they provided me during my time in the care system and when I left, too. Officers at the council always believed in me and had a real influence on my success.”

He added: “My advice to all the young people leaving the care system is work hard for what you want. Don't let past experiences hinder your success, as once I stopped letting my past define me that's when I truly began to live.”

An awards ceremony we held at the University of York saw more than 70 young joined by our officers and members of the county’s business community, to celebrate care leavers’ success, but also to speak about the barriers they face and share ideas and experiences.

Our executive member for children and families, Cllr Janet Sanderson, said: “Looking after children is one of the most important things our council does and we must always strive to give our children and young people the care, support and opportunities they deserve, as well as having ambitions for them.

“The leavers event is our way of saying ‘well done’ to young people who have left, or who are due to leave care. We are proud of you and, most importantly, you should be proud of yourself for making this transition from being in care to starting your journey towards adulthood.”

Our corporate director children and young people’s service, Stuart Carlton, added: “Our young people are truly exceptional and I was delighted to be part of this uplifting event to celebrate their achievements and give them the send-off they truly deserve. They are a credit to themselves and the whole community of North Yorkshire.”

Awards were handed out during the event, recognising the achievements of the young people and honouring staff who have championed their causes.

The hugs in a quilt that say ‘you’re amazing’

During the event, quilts hand-made by volunteers from Quilts for Care Leavers were presented to the young people, designed to be wrapped around their shoulders – like a quilted hug.

Quilts for Care Leavers was launched by Maggie Lloyd-Jones in Leeds in 2018, following a 30-year career as a solicitor in the field of child protection and safeguarding.

She realised the idea of creating and gifting quilts to young people leaving care at age 18 under the auspices of the Lemn Sissay Foundation.

Maggie said: “I was inspired by poet Lemn Sissay OBE, who spent his youth in care. I heard him say that on being transferred from long-term foster care to residential care, all he wanted was a hug.

“Our quilters are based all over the country and each quilt carries a label with a positive message such as ‘remember you are amazing’ or ‘remember you are strong’.

“We want the care leavers to know that there is someone out there who has made this quilt especially for them. Very rarely does a young person decide not to choose a hug, but that is them exercising their choice.”

Find more details about the support offered once a young person leaves the care system.