~ Parliamentary Board Member, Foster Care advocate, Youth Work Specialist and Author ~
Meet Keeley Stephenson who is a parliamentary board member, Youth Work Specialist as well as an advocate for foster care. She uses her negative experiences as fuel to shape her purpose and influence the individuals around her.
As a baby she was left in a supermarket by her mother who had Schizophrenia and she didn't know who her father was so as a result of this the local authorities was left with no other choice but to place her in foster care. However, when her mother was deemed as mentally stable she was then placed back in to her mother's care but unfortunately her mother had a relapse and Keeley experienced physical, mental, sexual and emotional abuse day in day out. (For further reading please visit https://happiful.com/author/keeley/ )
Similar to this, Keeley's foster care experience was no walk in the park. Keeley encountered many foster carers that were only in it for the financial gain and because of this was unable to care for her in the way her experiences, trauma and needs desired. This led Keeley in becoming an extremely broken individual that had zero confidence in herself which drove her in becoming a low achiever. Likewise, because of the lack of belief in herself Keeley left school with no GCSE's and was advised by her headteacher that taking an apprenticeship would be the better option for her. Now being the naive, insecure person that Keeley was at the time, she decided to listen to her headteacher and go down that route and she then began working in a care home for the elderly on a salary of only £2.50 an hour, where she worked 40 hours per week tirelessly.However, after a year of doing what a 16-year-old no longer enjoyed, she later realised that there was more to life and decided to embark on a Level 1 course in Health & Social Care whilst being a cleaner part-time.
Initially, when applying she was quite nervous as the words from her former headteacher kept ringing in her mind, but she decided to take the leap of faith and face her fears head on and after a few months had gone by she started to become comfortable, and realised that level 1 was a lot easier than she previously thought and because of this decided to persist and move up to level 2, where she ended up scoring much higher than she expected and achieved a Distinction* overall.
At this point Keeley’s confidence shot right up and she began believing in herself like never before, where she decided to complete a 2-year level 3 course that was equivalent to an A Level. By this time Keeley was feeling the pressure but was still able to believe that nothing was impossible and that she could do anything she put her mind to, so she remained persistent and her persistency paid of enabling her to achieve a triple distinction which made her become eligible to apply for university. However, that’s when things became slightly tricky and because of this Keeley took a standstill of reluctancy to apply, as university was something that Keeley would have never considered.
She never believed she was worthy of earning a place in university because she thought that this level of academics was way too high for her and out of her league. She believed that because none of her family members had gone to study, that this was an impossible chess move for her. But something changed, she began to witness everyone in her class applying for UCAS and praying that they received their first choice’s, so she decided to try her luck also. During this time, she also decided that it was best not to keep her hopes up but on the other hand knew that it was worth a try, so she began applying and applied for 4 different positions, 2 of which she got declined from with the other two accepting her.
Being accepted into university meant the world to Keeley, she was extremely ecstatic yet so scared, but she decided to take a gallop of faith and aim higher than the stars. She knew that if she got accepted for at least 1 university place, this was her chance to make the most of it and really shine. And she did just that! At first, she began to find her feet and aim for her absolute best but to her shock she wasn’t achieving the grades that she believed she was capable of, so she tried harder. She realised that due to the variety and differences in modules, she wasn’t particularly going to enjoy everything but at least if she gave it her best shot, then it would all work out. And that’s what she did. However, after one of the hardest fights of her life, particularly when it came to her last year of university. She managed to achieve the second highest grade that one could receive, and she was beyond chuffed. There was days where Keeley would cry herself to sleep and spend long nights and early mornings working tirelessly on projects so the emotions that she felt was only right at this point.
However, when Keeley left university, life wasn't as good as she thought it would be and because of this she was faced with a devastating situation that could have taken a turn for the worst. This left Keeley feeling severely depressed and hopeless until one day she decided that she couldn't live her life like this anymore and realised that enough was enough. Fortunately, during this time she developed this idea to write a book to help foster carers. This helped distract her mind from the inner pain she was experiencing and she decided to call it 'A foster Carer's guide, from a young persons perspective'. As a result of this book, she was called into many rooms to sit with local authorities and discuss national change about the gaps that were in their services and how she could support them to address it and to her surprise she now does this as part of a paid job role.
Furthermore, through Keeley turning her pain into purpose she has now become the youngest board member for UK Parliament, she has also been privileged to chair meetings with the parliamentary, undersecretary of state for children and families and lead discussions with the officials of The Department of education and not to mention have dinner with the former publicist of Barack Obama and Boris Johnson. Likewise, Because of all her additional hard efforts she is now a trainer for foster carers and prospective adopter's and takes pride in delivering high quality sessions nationally, She is also an ambassador for a policy forum where she discusses current issues with like minded Care Leavers in order to create political and social change whilst ultimately being an advocate for the foster care system. Overall, Keeley Stephenson is a change maker and is living proof that anyone in the foster care system can come out at the other end and do it successfully.