Health: From care to anywhere

CHRIS Bevan has eight GCSEs, three A levels and is about to go to university. He is a talented musician and composer and has spent the last three months working for Barnardo's.

The 18-year-old also grew up in care and sadly, his achievements are unusual for young people from that background.

Latest figures show only 15 per cent of looked after children get five GCSEs at grade A to C, compared to a national average of 70 per cent.

Only around five per cent go onto higher education, when that figure is around 40 per cent for other young people.

The stereotype remains that people who grew up in care are likely to achieve less than those brought up in a traditional family setting.

Chris is keen not only to challenge that, but to act as a role model to other young people facing the same problems he did.

"When people are in care they have so much control taken away from them," he said.

"There's always somebody making your decisions and when you get to the stage where you have to make decisions for yourself it can be quite difficult.

"It's about making positive choices and using the bad experiences you have had to do something good."

He was born in Leeds and initially lived with his parents, older brother and younger sister.

But family problems meant all three children were taken into care.

Chris stayed with several foster families and then was moved to Inglewood Children's Home in Otley at the age of six.

"I can remember feeling scared and nervous on the drive there, I was asking where I was going," he said.

"I saw a man in the entrance to the home, when I got out of the car he just stood there with his arms wide open. He gave me a big hug when I walked up to him which was really reassuring."

He struggled at first, being sent to a pupil referral unit for bad behaviour, and says this was his way of dealing with the difficulties he had experienced.

Once settled though, he had a happy childhood.

"It took a few years for me to feel settled at Inglewood but it really was a good place to grow up, my experiences there were really positive," he said.

"The carers there were like family to me."

His talent for music was picked up on and at Prince Henry's Grammar School in Otley, he started singing lessons, joined the choir and bands and was given the lead role in the school's production of the Little Shop of Horrors.

Aged 14, his gran gave him a piano and he started piano lessons.

"I had always enjoyed performing at home, pretending I was doing a show," he said.

"After I started playing music I started writing music too. I was so pleased to get the piano, my guardians at Inglewood supported me and listened to my music. They've always encouraged me and I will forever be grateful for that. "

That encouragement paid off – Chris reached grade 7 standard on the piano and can sing to grade 8.

Academically he did well too, passing eight GCSEs and A levels in geography, geology and drama.

"Just because I've been bought up in care, it doesn't mean I can't be successful," he said.

"This is what's driven me. I saw only one way to change my life and make it better and that was through education. I was given a lot of support by the teachers at school and at the home."

At the age of 17, he wanted to become more independent and moved out of the children's home.

He was put in touch with Barnardo's Futures, one of the charity's projects in Leeds which links up young people leaving care with providers of supported lodgings.

One was based nearby and after a few meetings, Chris moved in.

"It was nerve racking at first but Barnardo's provided me with a lifeline," he said.

"Liz helped me to learn some skills for looking after myself, like how to cook, and she gave me advice. If it wasn't for Futures I wouldn't have been able to stay in the area where my friends where and where I felt safe and secure."

Since then Chris has moved into his own flat and initially started a diploma course in music in Leeds, though he has decided to now go to university in Plymouth, where he starts this month.

Last May he began working with the Barnardo's Children's Rights team, researching services for care leavers in Leeds and how these can be improved.

Chris has also had more success with his music after composing the score for a Leaving Care conference which was held at Leeds United's banqueting suite in June.

His orchestral piece Music for the Youth – Dream Big, aims to inspire others like him to go after their dreams.

"The idea behind the music is to inspire young people who are in care and encourage them to follow their ambitions and dreams.

"I do believe that we can do whatever we set our minds and hearts to.

"I've used my past experiences to fuel a better future for me, I hope others in similar situations will hear the music and the message and realise that they can do whatever they want to.

"I want other care leavers to think 'a care leaver has done this' so they will feel inspired."

Chris is also on the lookout for an orchestra to perform his composition as though one could not be found for the conference, he would like still like a full orchestra to play it.

His next step is heading to Plymouth University where he will study geology but he is continuing to pursue his love of music.

He is also backing a national songwriting competition which is raising funds for Barnardo's – the charity which he says gave him a great opportunity.

The Young Songwriters Competition will see young people write the lyrics and music for their own uplifting original composition and then record it.

Chris said: "As a young composer myself, supported by Barnardo's, I feel that young people should leap at every positive opportunity that comes your way and use your talents to fuel a better future."

To see a film about Chris and hear his composition, log on to www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HyM3coVGnY or search for Music for the Youth – Dream Big. Anyone involved in an orchestra which would be interested in performing his piece should email sean.lloyd@leeds.gov.uk.

More details on the Young Songwriters Competition are available at www.young-songwriters.co.uk.