Stable foster placements are key to university access and a happy life

22nd September 2006 at 01:00
Nicola McDade is proof that young people in care can go on to achieve high educational attainment and fulfilled lives.

Now 22, Nicola is completing a masters degree in screen studies, having graduated with an honours degree in economic and social history and television studies from Glasgow University.

But she would be the first to say that the key to her success was a long-term stable placement with her foster parents.

Nicola entered the care system when she was six months old and, up until the age of six years, went in and out of care, including 18 months in a children's unit. Then, she and one of her brothers were placed in foster care.

Initially, she thought it would be for only a few months as she expected to be adopted. But the placement turned out to be long-term - 17 years' long, in fact.

"Since the age of seven or eight, I have called them mum and dad," says Nicola.

It was only her foster father's poor health that prevented her foster carers from going through formal adoption procedures.

Nicola was brought up in East Kilbride and, although she now realises that her teachers would have been informed of her family circumstances, says that she just had "a normal education because I had such a stable family life".

In recent years, she has been involved in the promotion of foster care as part of a recruitment drive by Glasgow City Council. She was also involved in organising the "What Works for Us" conference for the council to celebrate the achievements of looked-after children and young people, and to recognise the achievements of carers, social workers, teachers and other adults in their lives.

Although she never felt stigmatised because of being in care, she recognised that many other children do.

Her advice to teachers is: "Don't stigmatise looked-after children. You should not make them feel different. I never wanted to feel different; I just wanted to be a normal child. But offer extra support if you feel it's necessary."

Nicola received extra support from Glasgow City Council under two tranches of funding from the Scottish Executive, targeted at improving the educational outcomes of looked-after young people. The first chunk of funding provided her with a laptop while she was doing her first degree; the second tranche gave her financial support for her masters degree.

Her brother, who is now at college training in social work, received support from a tutor to help him with dyslexia and also received a computer to help him with his college studies from the same source of funding.

Nicola hopes to graduate with an M.Litt this November. After that, she plans to spend six months in the United States with a friend, and then pursue a career as either a film and television researcher or a film critic.

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