A young mother who came through the care system and is now thriving with her own family and a successful career has thanked the University for its support during some of her darkest times.

Judith Cossey, 27, from Washington, is mother to Mason (8 years), Eliza-Rose (2 years) and Alexander-Thomas (1 year old) and has launched a new career with HMRC after graduating last year.  She has overcome childhood neglect, growing up in care and issues with drugs and drink. Though it has been a difficult road for Judith she is now making a new life for herself and her young family.

Judith graduated with her Masters degree in Practice Development in 2019, with her studies based around individuals leaving the care system and the implications they face. While studying she was supported by the University’s ‘We Care’ initiative, a scheme which nurtures, develops and supports care experienced and estranged students through their university life.

“If it wasn’t for the We Care team at the University of Sunderland, I honestly do not think that I would have been able to pass not only the one degree but two,” says Judith, who studied for her first degree in Health and Social Care at Sunderland.

“Every time I felt like the ground was swallowing me up, I knew I had people there I could turn to. Even if it was personal issues and not issues around studying, the We Care team was still there.

“Even now, I have been left the University for a year, I know I am able to pick up the phone for a chat, and there are people still willing to support you even when you have flown the nest.

“I’m still battling issues at home but the We Care team still try to help me get through these hard times.”

Now the University has launched We Care at Christmas to support care experienced and estranged students at their Sunderland and London campuses.

Judith added: “This year Christmas will be spent a little differently. We have formed a support bubble with one of the children’s nanas so we will be having Christmas dinner there. Christmas morning will be spent at home watching the children open their gifts.

“Usually we would visit other family members but due to COVID-19 restrictions we may just have to do doorstep drop offs, which will be a shame. Christmas time is family time, and thanks to this virus not many of us are able to see our families.”

Many care experienced and estranged students will spend Christmas alone. For many of these students Christmas will be a time they will spend alone, perhaps without a card, gift, festive meal or companionship. For those students with children, it is a particularly difficult time trying to provide for their children, while making Christmas special.

The We Care at Christmas appeal is raising funds to support care experienced and estranged students at the University’s Sunderland and London campuses.

So far staff at the University, with the support of Sunderland Rotary Club, have raised £5,050.  Student and staff volunteers are now working to distribute gifts and vital support to 160 students, and more than 30 children.

University of Sunderland Vice-Chancellor, Sir David Bell, has backed the campaign and is asking staff to donate funds and their time.  He says: “Our care-experienced and estranged students are a valued and important part of our University community and now is our opportunity to remind them, in a very practical way, of how much they mean to us.”

If you would like to find out more about the appeal go to the We Care at Christmas Go Fund Me page.