Jade Ward

What you like to introduce yourself?

I’m Jade, I’m 26 and I’m from York.

Would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself?

I first went into care when I was 13, but before that I lived with my Nanna since the age of 9. I’ve worked with leaving care services and children in care for the last 10 years. Before that I was pretty much sat where you guys are now, I was a member of the Show Me That I matter panel.

“I’ve worked with leaving care services and children in care for the last 10 years”

I currently work for the University of York and I have some self-employment contracts as well.

Jade Session ASPIRE TO MORE PROJECT_6Are you happy to tell us the reasons why you went into care?

When I was 9 we went to live with various family members, with my Nanna mainly. My mum and dad both went to prison, they were both drug abusers and when they went to prison, me and my sister went to live with my grandma. Unfortunately my grandma was quite old, my mum was the youngest of 11 children. My grandma wasn’t able to look after me and my sister and that’s when we both went into the care of the local authority.

“When I was 9 we went to live with various family members”

How did you feel about going into care?

I wasn’t happy. I was 13. Me and my sister didn’t have a very good experience of going into care really. We got picked up from school because my Nanna had a fall and we couldn’t go home that day. I didn’t want to go into care, I didn’t know where I was going, I didn’t know the name of the woman.

“I didn’t want to go into care, I didn’t know where I was going, I didn’t know the name of the woman”

That was on the first day of going into care. After the shock went, I felt much better about it. I understood the reasons about it a lot more then, but on that first day I was not happy.

Jade Session ASPIRE TO MORE PROJECT_9What is your favourite childhood memory?

I have a really embarrassing one. I was about 5 and I had just learnt about baby Jesus before Christmas. At Christmas I got this doll, it was wrapped in blankets and I ran into my mums bedroom and said “Santa’s brought me baby Jesus!” (Laughs). I was so happy.

“At Christmas I got this doll, it was wrapped in blankets and I ran into my mums bedroom and said “Santa’s brought me baby Jesus!”

What is your biggest achievement?

Up until now, my biggest achievement is having my own flat for 10 years. I moved into my flat when I was 16. I’ve not lived anywhere for that long before. Managing to keep my own home, which wasn’t easy for 10 years, is my biggest personal achievement.

“Up until now, my biggest achievement is having my own flat for 10 years. I moved into my flat when I was 16”

Overall, what do you think your care experience has been like?

I had a really nice carer. She was old. She had 5 cats. She was a really crazy single lady. She was great. Living with her was really good. She was a lot older than what I had been used to so we did have a lot of arguments about whether or not I came straight home from school and dinner was cooked because I would be like ‘I’m not hungry, go away, I’m not used to it’. We would argue over who did the washing because she wouldn’t let me use the washing machine, which I wanted to do. But those were just little family bickers really. I still see her to this day. I still go see her on mothers day, I still see her every few days for dinner. I see her once a week, or at least speak to her once a week and that’s 10 years down the line since I lived with her. I had a really really good care experience.

“I had a really really good care experience”

Jade Session ASPIRE TO MORE PROJECT_13Has your past had a negative or positive effect on your future?

Both. When I was 17, 18, 19 it was really negative. I was in my own flat. I was the first member of our friendship circle to have that. I got into debt, I partied. I would choose to buy booze at the weekend instead of paying my rent that particular week and stuff. It was a negative for me because I didn’t feel like I was ready or had prepared well enough to go.

“I didn’t feel like I was ready or had prepared well enough”

But since the age of 18 and upwards its had a positive impact on me as well because I’ve been doing a lot of work with young people and going back and being able to tell them “I massively messed up, it doesn’t have to be that way for you guys”. So it’s had both a positive and negative affect on me.

What has driven you?

This might sound selfish, but I wanted to be better than my Mum. It would start off as ‘Well you couldn’t do it but I can’. I’m not going to go down the same track as you’. And now actually that attitude isn’t there anymore, its more my own personal drive to make sure that I don’t end up being pulled into court because I haven’t paid my rent again and so I don’t end up having no money. Seeing the impact of what I do with young people massively drives me as well. I don’t lie to young people that I work with, I tell them when I’ve messed up and I tell them its not all perfect at the start. I think I have quite a strong personal drive.

“Seeing the impact of what I do with young people massively drives me”

Jade Session ASPIRE TO MORE PROJECT_3Who is your role model?

My Nanna was my role model. My Nanna raised 11 kids by herself and then she raised her grandkids. She only died a couple of years ago, she was 92. My Nanna was a very strong woman. Also my foster carer. I like strong independent women, they empower me a lot.

“I like strong independent women, they empower me a lot”

What keeps you going?

I just love my job. I love working with young people. I love telling my story. I love telling people its not all glory, and I really love having those conversations with young people which you wouldn’t have with professionals or other people.

“I love telling my story. I love telling people its not all glory”

I went to work a few months ago and the first thing this lad said to me was “What is that in your face?” and I was like “Brilliant!!” (Laughter). I love those times. I don’t like working in an office, I love the time when I’m out working with the young people because that makes me get out of bed. We all share the same category, we all have that same tag line on us and I love that.

Have you ever felt like giving up?

Yeah. More than once. Even now sometimes I think I just cant do it. The hardest time was when I was 17-18. I didn’t want to get out of bed and I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have anything to encourage me to go and do anything. I never feel like chucking it all in now but sometimes I just think I wish it could all just go away for a week. I wouldn’t say giving up anymore, but I’ve defiantly felt like giving up in the past.

How much do you think care has changed since you left?

Ah man, loads! Its got a long way to go. I don’t think its perfect by far but I do think there’s a lot of things that have come into play since I left that have changed and I think some of the policies nowadays are better than they have been in the past.

Do you think that you were ever judged or labeled because you were in care?

Being in care in York when I was younger I got involved in everything. Everything I could do – I did. When I was getting to 16-17 I sort of felt a bit like I’m a bit of a trophy child. I would get pulled in when Ofsted came in and I feel like they labeled me as a succeeding care leaver. But on the other hand when I was at school there were little bits of bullying and stuff but I kind of just said “Jog on!”

Jade Session ASPIRE TO MORE PROJECT_12When and what moment did you really start to believe in yourself?

The feedback I receive from young people is really encouraging. But I’m still learning. I wouldn’t stand here now and say I 100% believe in myself. I believe in what I do but I don’t necessarily think to myself I’ve got it. I learn every day. The feedback I receive through my work encourages me to keep going and I believe in myself a little bit more each time.

“I believe in myself a little bit more each time”

Did you ever feel alone?

Yeah. I got a cat. (laughter). It started with just one, now I have 5! But when I was 17 my cat saved my life, he really did. Because I had nothing to get out of bed for. I had nothing in me to make me want to get out of bed. No job. I had been kicked out of college for not attending. I got this tiny cat and had to look after it. It was only 10 days old so I had to feed it every 2 hours. When I felt really lonely, having an animal really did lift me up. I think everyone feels alone at some point. You can live with 30 people in your house and still feel alone.

“When I felt really lonely, having an animal really did lift me up”

Do you think your foster carers helped you and if so, how?

Yeah, she still does now. She maybe didn’t prepare me as much as she should have done but I was her first long standing placement. She was learning as I was learning, we both started off together. She was VERY strict. She used to be like “no it’s 5 past 9 ill call the police if your not here in 2 minutes” and that’s because she was going by the book. She was a new foster carer, I was a new child in care. But she’s always somebody I can talk to, somebody I can go back to.

“she’s always somebody I can talk to, somebody I can go back to”

And to say I lived with her for 3 years and 10 years later I still see her weekly says a lot. I rang her up a few weeks ago asking how to make Yorkshire puddings right! I didn’t realise the oil had to be hot first! (laughter)

What would you say to children in care?

Don’t let the term ‘In care’ sit on your shoulders because a lot of young people can think “I’m in care, I’m another number, I’m another statistic, I’m another case file”. You’re not. if you have something to say then say it you’re a person and everyone in care is different.

“Don’t let the term ‘In care’ sit on your shoulders because a lot of young people can think “I’m in care, I’m another number, I’m another statistic, I’m another case file”. You’re not”

Don’t let being in care be all that you are. Sat around this table right now there’s 4 completely different people. Just because we have all had the ‘in care’ logo put on us. Were all individuals. Don’t ever let being in care define you as a person because it will bring you down.

What was it like when you first went into care?

I hated it. I was in this 60 year old womans house with 5 cats. One of them was a ginger cat as well and I wear black clothes. It always used to sit on me so I would always be ginger. But her son made me welcome in that house. her son was about 3 or 4 years older than me. He used to talk to me and make me laugh. Having her son in the house made me feel like I was more part of the family. I wasn’t used to so much structure. I was used to quite a lot of freedom. I actually really enjoyed my care experience after the first 6 months.

If you could change anything about your past, what would it be and why?

I would of left my Nanna’s in a more supported way because me and my sister got split up. I would of liked to of had a plan in place between the ages of 9 and 13 for me and my sister to leave my Nanna – than do it that day, like that. And I would of liked to have stayed with my sister.

“I would of liked to of had a plan in place between the ages of 9 and 13 for me and my sister to leave my Nanna – than do it that day, like that” 

In the most difficult moments, what kept you going?

My Nanna. I used to run to her house all the time. I used to always feel a bit of a responsibility for my Nanna so if I had a problem I used to always run to my Nanna. She kept me going. She would always tell me straight as well. On top of that I had a great friendship circle. Growing up in York I had really close group of friends who I’m still friends with today. They were all a bit weird. One of them had been adopted by his Nanna, one of them didn’t live with her dad, she lived with her mum. They all had their own issues and they were all a supportive group of friends.

Jade Session ASPIRE TO MORE PROJECT_14How did it feel proving people wrong that you could get a proper life?

I actually felt guilty a few years ago about what I was doing well when I looked at my mum and my sister because my mum still doesn’t do very well, and my sister was struggling at the time – but she’s doing a lot better now. My sister has her own children. She was a young mum, she struggled a lot. There was this sort of jealousy in the sense that my sister would always be like “oh yeah you and your perfect life” and my mum would throw that at me too. I felt a bit guilty about doing my own thing. But I got to the point where I just thought ‘Ive got to’. I closed my doors for a long time to a lot of my family and just put my head down and did my own thing. I thought there’s 2 ways this is gonna go, I’m either going to ruin it all and go back down to that level again or I’m going to put my walls up and do my thing.

Did you ever run away and what was it like?

I would run away to my Nannas! I never ran away from home and packed a bag or anything, I would just run there. And 9 times out of 10 I would be back home that night.

What do you think of the care system now?

I think its getting better. But I also think its getting worse. Some policies might be getting better but the resources are getting worse. The money is getting worse. the placements are maybe not all there. I think there’s a massive amount of work to be done. I wouldn’t say that the care system is anywhere near perfect. But I would say some parts of it have improved and are slowly improving.

“Some policies might be getting better but the resources are getting worse”

Jade Session ASPIRE TO MORE PROJECT_17What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

I was terrified of losing my house when I didn’t pay my rent. I was really scared. A lot of my challenges have been things like managing my money and learning how to cook. Those independent challenges. The fear of losing my house shocked me into thinking ‘stop partying and stop messing around now’. There’s only so many jacket potatoes you can eat as a vegetarian. There’s only so many pizzas you can burn! Pushing myself to make those little changes. But the big challenges like money I went and got support for. When you’re living on your own its really important to know how to manage money.

Why do you think that the statistics show that care levers achieve less?

They’re not measured properly for starters. They don’t measure young people at 18 in education and things like that, they start at 19,20,21. And they’re really detrimental to young people. Because if the stats are bad then there’s no encouragement there to actually go and do it and I think that publishing things like ‘7% of care leavers go to university’ is really negative on care leavers that aspire to go to university because they just knock you down.

“publishing things like ‘7% of care leavers go to university’ is really negative on care leavers that aspire to go to university because they just knock you down”

Again it’s that tag line. You’re in care, you don’t do well, your all in prison – you’re all shop lifters. None of you go to Uni and none of you get good jobs. When you see it in numbers it feeds into young people and makes them think not a lot of people can do it. I used to think university was for posh people. I thought you had to be loaded to go to Uni. I didn’t go until I was 23. I thought you had to be posh and rich, but that’s not the case.

Jade Session ASPIRE TO MORE PROJECT_35What did you do differently to the people around you that you saw were failing?

My sister has 3 kids. She has no GSCE’s and she has never really had a job, only part time work here and there. I don’t see her as failing but she was struggling and my role as big sister who knew the housing system and knowing this that and the other, I got her out of that situation. I got her into temporary accommodation and I supported her into getting a house. She didn’t have an adult to support her, she didn’t know how to do it. Whereas now she has her own house, she’s engaged, she has 3 kids and she’s doing really well for herself.

Who is the most inspiring person you have met and why?

Can I say my Nanna again? (laughter). The people I meet on a daily basis inspire me. Young people who do stuff like fill out that UCAS application and go to Uni. I worked with a young person who has just passed his level 1 in English and Maths, he was so pleased with himself. Then there’s people who do things just for the love of it and those are the people who inspire me the most. Like Kev. The work Kev does, and you guys! When I joined Show Me That I Matter I didn’t really see it as being the grass roots for my future, I saw it as a meeting then I went to because I was interested in what was going on, I would have a laugh and meet my friends and it was all good. But actually it put me on the step of what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go.

How do you become successful despite having a care back ground?

I just talk to everyone! I can’t sit here and think I’m really successful. I’m at the start of my career, I’m a junior researcher, I’m at the bottom of my career and I’m working my way up. I think people see me as a success and that’s really really nice to hear. and I think it comes back to those statistics, because you wouldn’t expect me to be here 10 years later doing what I do now. Its not that long of a gap really. Being positive about things and talking to people. I’m not embarrassed of my back ground at all, if it wasn’t for my back ground I wouldn’t have my job. I wouldn’t have had all the opportunities I have had.

“I’m not embarrassed of my back ground at all, if it wasn’t for my back ground I wouldn’t have my job”

People say to me ‘you have done so well for yourself’ and actually that’s a bit of an ego booster for me. When somebody says you have done really well today, you think ‘yeah I have, thanks’. I take that on board and think – they liked that last time so ill do it again!

What is your message to professionals and foster carers?

I think they need to learn to listen. I mean properly listen. Listen to young people and feedback to young people. One of the biggest things that’s missing is that in-between communication.

“I think they need to learn to listen. I mean properly listen”

If you tell your social worker something in the car going somewhere then don’t take that as just a passing comment, actually that could be really important. its that to and fro feedback between young people and professionals. I don’t think that on the top of their agenda. Again, without you guys, they wouldn’t have a job. their job is to listen to you and support you but also to feed that back to me to tell me how that’s going. Its about making you guys feel understood.