'Stick at it' - Sunderland University student who grew up in care inspires others to follow their dreams

University of Sunderland student Judith Cossey with her partner Ryan and children, Eliza (16 months), Mason (6), and Alexander (12 weeks).
University of Sunderland student Judith Cossey with her partner Ryan and children, Eliza (16 months), Mason (6), and Alexander (12 weeks).

A mum-of-three studying for a Masters at Sunderland University is encouraging other care leavers to give higher education a chance.

As the Government calls for a "cultural change" at universities to encourage more care leavers to continue in the education system, Judith Cossey has shared her story in a bid to inspire more people into student life.

The St Peter's Campus of Sunderland University.

The St Peter's Campus of Sunderland University.

According to figures provided by the university, just 6% of those leaving care go on to study at university - with those who do twice as likely to drop out.

But Judith, who is 25, has defied the odds and showed the world what she is capable of. Now, she wants to see more students like her at university.

After being placed on the child protection register as a baby, Judith and her siblings were placed into foster care. As a teenager, her behaviour began to "spiral downwards".

She was then placed in a children's home, where she remained until she was 18. Then, she fell pregnant.

Judith added: “I moved back in with my step mother and cleaned up my act. I wanted a better life for me and my son so I decided to go back to college.”

Achieving her degree in health and social care at Sunderland University in 2017, Judith decided to go on to study a Masters.

During her studies she was supported by the Care Experienced Students Support Team - a group always there to provide support, whether academically or personally.

In Sunderland, the team works with students on an individual basis on a bespoke support plan to meet individual needs.

This can include help with finding accommodation, financial support and assisting with part-time employment opportunities.

Judith continued: “It’s hard to leave [my children] at home so you can go to class, but the University’s Care Experienced Students Support Team have been a huge support during my studies and I don’t know what I would do without them.

“Even if it is just for a quick chat or a whinge about something not relating to university, they are there for you. They are more like friends than workers, and they really like babies."

The Government’s new Higher Education Principles published in March set out how universities should do more for young people leaving care by providing them with personal support as well as giving them money for course materials and to fully experience student life.

Speaking of her own experiences, Judith also urged those thinking of studying at university to "stick at it" even when things seem impossible.

She added: "If you are feeling down, talk to people. Friends you make at university are friends for life.

“Never feel as if you are alone during your time at university. No one is ever alone.”