Bethany grew up in care from age 11 after her grandmother passed away. She became pregnant at 16, but completed her GCSEs and A-Levels and she is now managing parenting with a full-time degree in International Public and Social Policy at the LSE with financial support from the Centrepoint Bursary.
Losing a grandparent and primary carer
Bethany, 20, went into care at age 11 when her Grandmother passed away: “There wasn’t really anyone else suitable to look after me so I ended up in care that way.” She has been in four foster placements since then.
A teenage pregnancy
When she was 16, she fell pregnant and took her GCSE exams in her third trimester. Due to her pregnancy, she had to move into a new foster placement where she stayed until she was 18. She then was moved into supported housing before being referred to Centrepoint in March of 2020.
“I was initially told that I would be able to stay in my last foster placement until I finished my A-levels, but when I turned 18, I was told that I wasn’t able to stay there anymore and I didn’t feel I was given clear reasons why. There was just so much uncertainty. My carer had been there through the whole of my journey into parenthood. She was even my birthing partner, the uncertainty caused some tension between us and it wasn’t fair on either of us," she reflects.
That foster placement ended in December 2018, but Bethany wasn’t provided with alternative accommodation until February 2019.
“I thought it would be really short-term and so I told the council that I could stay with my friend for a short time, but obviously I needed somewhere more permanent. I ended up staying there for two months. All my stuff was still at my foster carer’s place. My friend had a single mattress and my son and I would sleep on that in the living room. It was really far from where my school was. I wasn’t able to attend school for those two months because I didn’t have any childcare or any of my books. It was a difficult time, but I still managed to pick myself up from that,” she remembers.
Finding the right support
Bethany was referred to Centrepoint in early 2020.
“Once at Centrepoint, I felt a lot freer and I was able to focus on myself and my son. Valda, my key worker, just gave me what I needed. She could see that I was independent and could do most things for myself. She helped me with things like service charges and understanding rent because it was all new to me. However, in terms of life skills – cooking and cleaning and things like that – she could see that I knew what I was doing. She basically understood where I needed help and where I didn’t and she listened to me. She just listened. She was like my mini therapist. It was helpful, rather than an interrogation,” she says.
Bethany arrived at the property at the start of lockdown and it was difficult to keep the children entertained.
“We were having issues with the garden. There were foxholes and other things and we really wanted to improve it so we could enjoy it. One day Matt, the service manager, came round and he just did the whole garden for us himself and that was amazing. We appreciated that so much, especially in lockdown because we didn’t have any outdoor space for the kids to play.”
Supported by the Centrepoint Bursary
Bethany moved into student accommodation when she started her degree at the London School of Economics (LSE) where she is studying International Social and Public Policy. She has an apartment, which accommodates both her and her son and she continues to receive financial support from the Centrepoint Bursary, which helps her to pay for childcare whilst she is studying.
“Childcare is so expensive and there is no way I could afford it on student finance. It could cover a very small proportion, but it wouldn’t be enough to dedicate myself to my studies and do the very best I can,” Bethany enthuses. “It is so important for me to be able to access full-time and long-term childcare. It was one of the things I worried about, but it’s actually going to be there for the duration which is amazing.”
“It means that I can engage in a lot more activities that the university run. I want to be able to engage with as much of the university experience as possible.”
“Single parents who attend university can’t get a part time job like everyone else,” she adds. “I can’t work in the evenings or at the weekends. My son is already at nursery five days a week and the weekend is time for just the two of us and that’s important. I’m his sole carer because I’m a single mum and a care leaver.”
Bethany is passionate about giving care leavers and young parents the same access to education.
“I’m in a team of care leavers and we advocate for other care leavers and young mums. I’ve got to know a lot of young mums through that. It’s a simple equation: not all young mum’s want to sit on benefits but they need support to get back into education. The biggest barrier is childcare – the cost is just unaffordable for someone in my situation. To me it doesn’t make sense, it’s an investment because those young parents will give back to society. It’s horrible for young parents to be stuck in the benefit cycle,” she insists.
This summer, Bethany hopes to complete an internship at Centrepoint.
“My university is running a scheme where essentially, they pay your salary to work with a charity or social enterprise. They are going to pay us a month’s salary for us to do 140 hours over the space of four weeks in the holidays. My application was successful, but if I didn’t have the childcare, it would be really difficult for me to be able to take up the opportunity.”
She says that eventually, she would like to start her own charity.
“I would like to eventually start my own housing charity for vulnerable people such as care leavers and young parents. I’ve experienced a lot of difficulties with housing. Essentially, I think that the majority of us don’t have secure housing. I want to widen participation in terms of finding accommodation that’s suitable for all kinds of people at a really good standard.”
We think Bethany is is an absolute inspiration and wish her all the best for the future.