One of the city’s most inspirational students has been recognised for her achievements.
Emma Dougherty, 23, from Grindon, who spent most of her childhood in foster care, was awarded the University of Sunderland’s Ede and Ravenscroft prize.
Now, Emma, is herself planning a career in social care after completing her degree in childhood studies, with the help of Sunderland City Council’s Next Steps care leavers support programme, which helped fund her studies.
Recipients of the annual award are nominated in recognition of their high academic achievement and individual commitment.
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.
I’m proud of what I’ve achieved.Emma Dougherty
“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.”
Emma achieved her degree after taking a year out to look after her birth mother, who she remained close to throughout the difficulties.
Emma’s mother didn’t live to see her 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, were there to share her big day.
She said: “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.”
Administered through Sunderland City Council Children’s Services, the Next Steps programme provides practical advice and financial support to help the difficult transition period from being in care to adult independence.
Coun Louise Farthing, portfolio holder for children’s services, 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.”