There are almost 3000 children and young people living in care in Northern Ireland, either in foster families, residential care, or other types of care placements. Thanks to National Lottery players, Northern Irish charity VOYPIC (Voices of Young People in Care) are working hard to support looked after children and young people.
Andrea Glenn, from Magherafelt, was supported by VOYPIC throughout her teenage years. After a difficult start in life, Andrea has grown into a confident, ambitious young woman. Now she wants to show other young people in care that they can have the same dreams as everyone else.
Andrea’s parents separated before she was born and her dad remarried. In total she has twelve brothers and sisters, including a twin sister, Lindsey.
Andrea’s mum Yvonne, was suffering from poor mental health and wasn’t able to cope with her eight children alone and her dad wasn’t able to have them all live with him either so they were placed in care.
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 just remember being put into a car and being told we were going to stay with this family but we were never told why, maybe because we were so young.
We ended up staying with them for two years but then the parents split up so social services moved us onto another foster home.”
This was the beginning of years of upheaval for Andrea. Over the next 15 years, she lived in 12 different homes and went to 7 different schools. Although she was able to keep in touch with her family, there was little consistency.
Andrea and Lindsey were kept together each time they moved homes until they were 11, but the girls started to fight a lot which led to issues in their foster home so Andrea arranged to live with her dad for a while. She spent the next few years moving back and forth between each of her parent’s houses, moving schools and at one point into emergency care.
“When I look back I wish I had just stayed in care, and been able to just stay with one family.
“I’ve never felt settled and I developed anxiety issues – 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.
“I remember when I was six, I always wondered why I wasn’t with my family – I thought they didn’t care and that they didn’t love me. I now know that wasn’t the case, but no one ever explained it properly to me.”
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 support from them has helped her live independently and she now uses her experiences to help younger children in care.
Andrea had to be placed in emergency care at the time of her GCSE exams and didn’t get the exam results she had hoped for. But since then she’s shown real dedication to her future and worked hard to achieve a place at Cardiff Metropolitan University to study Fine Art.
“People at school used to call me an orphan and tell me I wouldn’t amount to anything,” Andrea days. “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.”
Last year, VOYPIC received just over £590,000 of money raised by National Lottery players to continue their work with children in care, care leavers, and foster families across Northern Ireland. Their hard work means that young people like Andrea can achieve their ambitions and show that wherever they’re starting from, they can go on to do wonderful things.
To find out more about VOYPIC, check out their website: http://www.voypic.org/