Second chance: ‘Being taken into care gave me back my childhood’

Best mates

Luke grew up on a council estate as an only child caring for his physically disabled mother who was on benefits.

At age 11, his baby brother was born and he suddenly found himself being also a father, raising his brother.

Over the next four years, it took a toll on him mentally. As his grades slipped, social workers were alerted and found that he was under stress, suffering mentally. He was taken into care.

“My foster parents were kind and they pushed me hard, setting boundaries and establishing checks and balances. I was a child once again – something I did not have at home in the last four years.”

Allowing him to be a child again made a world of difference and his grades were beyond expectation.

“I was completed gobsmacked by my results. It was predicted that I would get no A’s or B’s, but I got two A’s, seven B’s, three C’s and one D.”

He went on to study chemistry, biology, history, government and politics and general studies at A level but he found it tough and progress slow.

Noticing unusual behaviour, his parents consulted his social worker and a psychologist. He was diagnosed with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

“This diagnosis was a weight off my shoulders. I felt as though I was to blame for my difficulty with my A-level subjects, especially with chemistry and biology which I found very difficult.”

Luke Hebblethwaite

Despite scoring only 260 ACAS points – short of the 300 he needed for the university of his choice, the University of Huddersfield accepted him to study a degree in history.

“It was a great moment for me. I got a bursary and a student loan. Now after four years in foster care, I was launching out to live on my own. The personal advisor from Sheffield Leaving Care Service and my foster parents provided the help and support I needed for that transition, plus I teamed up with four great house mates who have become good friends.”

In July 2018, Luke graduated with a First.

“The day I graduated was the proudest day of my life which I shared with my foster parents who pushed me hard and gave me back a childhood that I thought I had lost.”

Luke, turned 22, in September 2018 – the same month that he started his career journey to become a secondary school history teacher.

He was accepted on the School Centred Initial Teacher Training programme with a view to earning his post graduate certificate of education which would enable him to apply for a paying job.

His relationship with his mother has improved and he is in frequent contact with his brother who turned 11 this year – the same age that Luke was when his carer duties increased.

“I see my little brother a lot. I take him to see Sheffield United games, we go to the cinema, I take him to the park and I taught him how to ride a bicycle! He plays football and does four extra curricula activities.

“I am trying hard to help him so that he enjoys a better quality of life than I did. I am aware that I cannot give him everything but I am trying to help him achieve a balanced life alongside looking after mum.”

Luke’s success is coming just as Project Apollo is launched.  Funded by Department for Education and delivered by youth charity, Sheffield Futures, the project aims to support 100 care leavers into education employment or training to help them integrate successfully in adult life.

They will each be allocated a transition coach and will have the support of an employer engagement officer to help them secure work.

From Luke’s perspective, this is an excellent programme in the making.

“Growing up, my main concern was that I would be caught in the vicious cycle of living on benefits with a minimum-wage job. But now I have an equal opportunity to break that cycle, to make something of myself, to help my brother, my mother and, when I have my own children, to help them as well.

“If Project Apollo can provide care leavers with an equal opportunity and higher education as I had, then it will break the cycle for them and create a ripple effect that would positively contribute to Sheffield’s society and economy.”