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Inspirational Next Steps


Sep 21, 2016

ONE OF SUNDERLAND’S MOST INSPIRATIONAL ADULT LEARNERS has been recognised by the University of Sunderland for her achievements.

A graduate of both the University’s Childhood Studies degree course, and Sunderland City Council’s ‘Next Steps’ care leavers support programme which helped fund her studies, Emma Dougherty, 23, from Grindon was awarded this year’s annual Ede and Ravenscroft prizes.

Recipients of the annual awards which have been running for a number of years, are nominated by their faculties in recognition of their high academic achievement and individual commitment to continuing professional development and involvement with wider activities alongside their studies.

Emma was nominated by the Faculty of Education and Society at the University of Sunderland.

Senior lecturer in Childhood Studies, Stephanie Hunter, said: “I was delighted to nominate Emma for this prize, with the full support of the team. She has been an excellent, hard working and motivated student. We are all proud of how Emma has overcome adversities in her own life and managed to channel this knowledge into her studies.

“I supervised her dissertation which focused on the mental health and wellbeing of looked after children. She produced an excellent thoughtful piece of work, with a particularly well written literature review.

” We hope Emma will return to the University and guest speak as part of the teaching programme. She is an inspirational and dedicated young woman and we wish her every success.”

Emma who spent most of her early life and teenage years in foster care, achieved her Degree in Children’s Studies only after taking a study break of more than a year to look after her natural birth mother Janet, who she remained close to throughout the family’s difficulties.

Sadly Emma’s mother didn’t live to see her daughter graduate and take the first step in her career as a Social Work Assistant with Sunderland City Council, however both her foster parents Patricia and Mervyn Heward who have supported Emma throughout her early life and education were there to share her big day.

Emma said: “I was delighted to receive these awards, and honoured to receive my Degree from the University of Sunderland.

“It has been hard work, and the funding and support from everyone on the ‘Next Steps’ programme helped make it all possible. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved and hope it might encourage others leaving care to take the same kind of opportunities.

” I’m really looking forward to my new career in social work, and hope I can use my experiences and training to help others.”

Emma was among those care leavers in Sunderland who was supported by the ‘Next Steps’ programme through the difficult transition period from care into adult independence. Administered through Sunderland City Council Children’s Services, it provides practical advice and financial support to help the continuing personal, social and educational development of all those leaving care.

The Next Steps service for looked after children and care leavers provides co-ordinated, individual support focused on every aspect of a young person’s life. Partner agencies provide everything from health, independent living skills and family and relationship work, to education, employment, and accommodation within a strong community network.

Young people are allocated a key worker from the ‘Next Steps’ team who will work in partnership with the young person, important people in their lives and partner agencies, to develop a Pathway Plan.

The Pathway Plan will outline the goals and aspirations of the young person and the actions and support they will require to achieve these. Young people are also entitled to financial support to achieve these goals and aspirations and in Emma’s case she has had access to the Next Steps Higher Education Bursary to support with the costs of attending university.

Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services, Councillor Louise Farthing said: “What Emma has achieved is remarkable, overcoming the various obstacles and personal challenges in her life, not only to graduate but to graduate with distinction and receive this very special award. It’s also very heartening to think that Emma has chosen to study and work in social care.

“In Sunderland we are committed to helping all our young people reach their full potential, and providing them with the opportunities and support they need to achieve it.

” This especially includes all our ‘looked after children’ and the dedicated foster and adoptive families who provide them with a stable home environment in our community, as they prepare for adult life and independence.”

Cllr Farthing added: ” Emma is an example for us all, and on behalf of everyone in our city I’d like to congratulate her on receiving the Ede and Ravenscroft awards from the University of Sunderland.”

By Emily