On the mantlepiece in the lounge of her new home which she shares with her boyfriend, Zara Clench displays a framed photograph of her foster dad Roger, and another of her with her foster mum, Sheena. The foster couple played a huge role in transforming Zara’s life and the 22-year-old tells i she doesn’t know where she would be without them, or if she would even be here
Zara, who is from Devon and now lives in Sunderland with her boyfriend Morgan, is studying her final year of health and social care at university.
However, as a nervous 13-year-old, she was unsure about what to expect when she went into care as her only knowledge of what it was like was from watching Jacqueline Wilson’s character Tracy Beaker on television.
“It was nerve wracking going into foster care at 13 as I didn’t know much about the care system and I knew my life was going to change,” she explains. “I only knew what I associated with watching Tracy Beaker on TV. But that wasn’t a realistic depiction of the foster care system.
“Life was always very chaotic for children in care on Tracy Beaker and everyone seemed to live in one big house with loads of other children and it wasn’t a small family setting.”
When Zara moved in with her foster parents, there were two other foster children living there and they had grown up children of their own. Zara says from the day she arrived, she was welcomed into the family, included in holidays and family events and supported in school.
However, around two years after Zara moved in with them, the family suffered tragedy when her foster dad became ill and died. “It was very quick – within a month from diagnosis to him passing away and it hit the family very hard. He was the first father figure I’d ever really had and for him to suddenly not be there was very difficult and affected us all in different ways.
“We were there for each other and supported each other.”
Zara’s foster mum later told her that social workers had offered to rehome the foster children after her loss, but she declined because she wanted to carry on looking after them and to keep the family together.
Zara’s foster mum continued to support her through her education and helped her get a dyslexia diagnosis.
This made a massive difference to Zara’s education. “It allowed me to do things like speak exams and get extra time in exams,” she says. “It transformed my life and it meant I finally had methods to help my learning.”
After her A-Levels, Zara went away to a university in Wales. However, it was the year Covid hit and the country went into nationwide lockdown and Zara struggled to cope. Even young people who have had a positive experience of care may need support to help them deal with feelings of isolation and talking to others in a similar situation can help.
“I couldn’t go home and I was stuck in this tiny room and felt very isolated,” she recalls. “I caught Covid and I couldn’t focus on my studies and I didn’t do as well as I hoped.”
It was while she was unhappy at her first university that Zara discovered Become, the charity for children in care and young care leavers while scrolling online.
i has launched its Christmas appeal with the goal of encouraging kindhearted i readers to raise £75,000 so Become can support more children in care and young care leavers.
Zara says she initially got involved with Become during Covid lockdowns when they provided online link ups with other young people who had experienced care and this helped her feel less isolated and gave her an escape.
She started fundraising for them through the Become Players fundraiser, where gamers livestream themselves playing video games to an audience of friends and an online community.
Zara has switched universities but she has been back to live with her foster family during holidays and she only officially moved out a few months ago when she moved in with her boyfriend in Sunderland. The couple are now engaged.
Zara keeps in touch with foster mum Sheena regularly through visits and telephone calls. “My foster mum and my boyfriend’s parents are so understanding and supportive and when we speak on the phone, it’s like we’re not apart and it makes the times when we visit each other even more special.
“Looking back, going into care was one of the best things to ever happen to me and I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without my foster parents.”
How to donate
i has launched its 2023 Christmas Appeal “Together We Care” urging generous readers to raise money to help Become give vital advice and practical support to 1,300 children in care and young care leavers.
We initially set a fundraising target of £75,000 but thanks to the generosity of i readers, we now hope to raise £150,000 for the charity.
Click here to read more about what Become does: https://becomecharity.org.uk/
Here’s what your donation can provide:
- £2.50 sends a handwritten Christmas card to a child in care.
- £5 helps a child in care stay in touch with brothers or sisters living apart from them.
- £12 gives Christmas dinner to a young person who recently left care.
- £25 gives a Christmas present to a child in care or young care leaver.
- £45 pays for a young person to travel to Parliament to share their story with interested MPs.
- £50 pays for employment coaching to help someone leaving care find a job.
- £75 provides one-to-one guidance for a young person applying to university.
Click here to donate: www.becomecharity.org.uk/i-appeal