Most young people starting out at university will be experiencing life away from their loved ones for the very first time. By the time Sanna Mahmood began life as a student she had already been separated from her family for six years.
Sanna, 24, was placed into foster care with Kirklees Council at the age of 14 following a breakdown in her home life. Despite this, she has gone on to pursue her dream of studying for a degree, whilst dedicating her spare time to supporting other foster children and care leavers; something she says has only been possible with the support of her foster carers.
She said: “For any child who is placed into care it’s a shock to the system and this can have a lasting impact. In my case I inevitably felt some anger and a sense of abandonment; feelings that have never completely gone away. That said, I also felt that ultimately, I got what I needed, when I needed it.
“I’d go so far as to say that on some level being in care was a bit like being on holiday. Having come from a very conservative background my home life provided little opportunity for me to broaden my horizons or achieve academically. Fostering was something that opened up a whole other world to me; a world where I was encouraged by my foster carers to experience different people and places and to do well for myself. I actually learned the best life lessons and for the first time I had people around me who believed in me, which really boosted my confidence. Without that help and encouragement I doubt I would ever have made the decision to continue with my education.
“Through Kirklees Council I completed an apprenticeship in Children and Young People, which then enabled me to apply for my degree course. They also offered me the opportunity to do my one-year work placement in various Council departments, which helped me to decide what sort of career I wanted at the end of my degree. I know many care leavers who have gone on to have successful careers within the Council both through its university work placements and apprenticeship schemes.”
Now in her final year at the University of Huddersfield studying Health and Community Development, Sanna is aiming for a career in Human Resources. As well as studying towards her degree, Sanna has also been working tirelessly with Kirklees Council to help other foster children and care leavers, offering advice, support and skills training. She hopes that by doing so, other care leavers will also follow their dreams and aspirations, no matter how difficult a start to life they might have had.
She said: “Having received so much support both during and after my time in care I felt passionately about giving something back. For the past six years I’ve been volunteering with Kirklees Council’s Children in Care team, a forum that gives fostered children a voice by allowing them to share their experiences, discuss any issues and ask for additional support. I also work at the Council’s drop-in centre; a safe, friendly space where people can meet other care leavers, prepare a hot meal, take a shower and access IT facilities and council services. There, I help to run courses geared
towards independent living, such as healthy eating, running a household and communication skills.
“I feel it’s important that those leaving care know that there is help and support out there. Empowering young people to take control of their lives makes a huge difference as it can give them the confidence they need when applying for a job or accessing further education. Others like me, who have benefited from these services, have gone on to mentor other care leavers.”
Both locally and nationally there is a chronic shortage of foster carers. Whilst Sanna is committed to helping foster children and care leavers, she maintains that a solid grounding during a child’s formative years are equally vital. She says that this is something that can only happen if more foster carers come forward, so she is urging people in Kirklees to consider taking up the profession, in order to help meet the demand.
She said: “They say it takes a village to raise a child and no other profession has the power to influence and change a vulnerable child’s life for the better like fostering does. You become a huge part of each other’s lives so the positive changes that can be achieved are massive. Every child deserves the best start to life but some are at risk of missing out because there simply aren’t enough foster carers, particularly for teenagers, many of whom are just crying out for a positive role model. Without caring, understanding people who were willing to take me in, where would I be?
“I feel lucky in that I had amazing foster carers who encouraged me go out into the world and find myself, but leaving care was the strangest feeling, because I had no birth family to turn to. However, it was around this time that I realised that I’d become part of another family; one made up of my foster carers, their friends who fostered, as well as the children in their care. They are still a big part of my life today so it gives me great comfort to know that this is a family that I can always rely on and call my own.”
Andy Quinlan, acting fostering service manager from Kirklees Council, added: “People like Sanna are a shining example of what can be achieved when a child is placed in a nurturing environment
where they feel safe and valued. Despite a difficult start to life she can be proud that she has gone on to become a success in her own right and an excellent role model to the other children and care leavers that she continues to help.
“We want to make sure that every child in our care feels just as supported every single step of the way and our team of more than 200 foster families plays a vital role in ensuring that this can happen.
“Right now we are looking for long-term foster families for 30 children. If you want to help build a lasting legacy for some of our most vulnerable children please contact our fostering team on 0800 389 0086 or visit www.kirklees.gov.uk/fostering to find out more.”