The eldest of five children, Jade’s upbringing was chaotic and punctuated by abuse. Jade’s stepfather was an alcoholic and when Jade was 13, he took his own life. Six months later, her mum was diagnosed with cervical cancer.
In the middle of her GCSEs, Jade was told her mum’s cancer was terminal. At that point, Jade went off the rails, spending time sofa-surfing and using drugs and alcohol with greater ferocity, often turning up to school under the influence.
“My lowest exam, I was absolutely obliterated and they sent me home. I’d been predicted an A*, but got a D because I couldn’t complete the paper – I couldn’t even see it,” she recalls. “I still got away with three As and six Bs in the end – I don’t know how.”
When Jade was 17, things took a dangerous turn and eventually, Jade was admitted to hospital for treatment. She was in hospital when her mum died, only leaving hospital for the funeral.
“I recently saw a video of my mum from when I was in hospital. She had gone from a size 22 to a 6. She was so frail,” Jade remembers. “My grief doesn’t get smaller. It might change shape and life might grow around it, but it doesn’t go away.”
Because Jade’s siblings were all younger, her aunt became their legal guardians – but she wasn’t able to take on Jade, too.
“Although the law states I should have become a ‘looked-after child’ because I had no parents, nobody took responsibility. I came out of hospital at Christmas to a charity foster placement. I had lost my mum in October and my family wanted nothing to do with me. Now I’m two years clean, I understand it from their perspective; they were grieving and I was making it about me. But I was a child and didn’t understand.”
“This [foster] woman was wonderful – she tried to love me and care of me. I actually came home one night and she said, “I’ve made you tea for you”. Nobody had done that for me for a long time. It was beautiful, but it was too painful. I didn’t want this woman – I wanted my mum. That’s when I chose to leave.”
Homelessness and hospitals
In the February, Jade went back into hospital and, because she was alcohol dependent, was given a medical detox. She then continued to sofa-surf, even spending a couple of nights street homeless. “It was scary, but I didn’t class it as being street homeless because I stayed up all night, wandering about. I’d burnt all my other avenues; I’d lost a lot of friends because of how I’d behaved after my mother died. I was difficult to be around.”
Finding support from Stepping Stones
Jade was about to leave for London to earn money busking when she received a call offering her a place in a hostel. “I’ll never forget that call. Thank God it happened. I don’t think I would be alive today if I had gone to London.”
Once in the hostel, Jade continued to drink and use drugs. “I was picking money off the floor at one point. I was doing drugs I thought I’d never do. But I was determined to go back to college – I’d promised my mum and grandad that I’d continue my education. My grandad had given me a passion for learning.” Jade’s college was a long distance from the hostel, however, and the travel was taking its toll. After some time, a flat became available with one of Centrepoint’s partners, Stepping Stones, and Jade snapped it up. It was only a five-minute walk from her college.
Jade developed a positive relationship with Ellie, her support worker at Stepping Stones. “She encouraged me to continue going to college. I was still using – there was one point where I was almost kicked out because I was turning up off my head. Ellie advocated for me and gave them some background into what had been going on, which I’m forever grateful for. She also helped with my application for uni and drove me to look round one of the campuses. Without her support, I don’t think I’d have lasted.”
University and pregnancy
Around that time, Jade discovered that she was pregnant. She was 20. “I was very frightened. My ex-partner didn’t want anything to do with it. My gran was worried I’d leave education. I told her that I was either going to go to uni and have the baby, or go to uni and not have the baby. I was determined to go. I moved into halls four months pregnant. Stepping Stones and my university were really supportive,” she says.
Despite all the barriers facing Jade, her determination meant that she graduated with a first class honours degree.
“Three weeks after my son was born I was back on the train to uni and completed a year’s work in seven weeks. I knew if I stayed off for too long, I wouldn’t go back – I had to keep the momentum going. I had an emergency caesarean with my son so I was very poorly afterwards, but nothing was stopping me.”
Working with trauma
Since graduating, Jade has dedicated her career to working with other young people who have experienced trauma and even won a Centrepoint Award for her dedication.
“I was good at my job and advocating for young people. It felt really personal for me. I worked with some wonderful young people who went on to do amazing things. But I still had so much unresolved trauma that I hadn’t dealt with.
“I was good at reaching young people so I’d get the really tough cases, but I wasn’t strong enough yet and was creating more pain for myself. I’m now having the trauma therapy I need. I’m feeling better and have a beautiful family unit. My partner and I are having a baby soon – having that to looking forward to keeps me going.”
Jade has been working on writing a book and hopes to go into training for vicarious trauma. She is committed to driving policy around joint protocol and the difficulties 16- to 18-year-olds face getting appropriate support.