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If only there'd been someone to talk to...News

Talking to someone of the same age and background can help you do better at school, according to teenagers growing up in care in Birmingham.

Stephanie was 14 when she went into a children's home.

"I played truant a lot," she said. "I got some GCSEs but the highest grades were Es.

"I wish I had stuck it out and got better ones. If there had been someone my age to talk to, things could have been different."

Stephanie, now 18, works as a peer advocate at the children's rights service in Handsworth, Birmingham.

She combines a college course in hair and beauty with advising 11 to 18-year-olds from care on a range of issues, including abuse at home and bullying.

"Young people sometimes think that if they tell an adult about bullying, it will get worse," she said. "I have been bullied, and bullied other people.

Bullies don't bully for no reason. They're always unhappy and want to take it out on someone.

"Bullying is about fitting in with the crowd and looking powerful. You're saying, 'If you mess with me, I'll kick your head in'."

Stephanie said other problems included complaints about social workers and residential staff. She has also referred child protection issues to adult advocates.

She said being a peer advocate boosted her self-confidence and provided a useful income. Peer advocates earn around pound;6 per hour and are usually based in cities such as Manchester and London. In Birmingham advocates are trained by the National Youth Advisory Service.

Mandeep, 19, who grew up in care, said she had enjoyed being a peer advocate so much that she changed her career plans.

"It is easier to relate to someone your age," she said. "The slang we use is different."

Instead of becoming a businesswoman, Mandeep now wants to be a social worker, and is starting a university degree in social science in September.

"I let myself down at school, and only realised later what it meant," she said. "I've managed to turn my life round for the better, but it took longer than it should have done."

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