How did I get here? Journey from care to PhD student

Áine Rose Kelly is now a doctoral student at the Rees Centre, Department of Education, University of Oxford.

My name is Áine Rose Kelly and in January 2014 I wrote a blog post about care leavers and postgraduate study for the Rees Centre blog. I was delighted with the response and comments I received from sharing my experience so I thought I would update you on where I am now.

I still can’t quite believe it!

After writing my blog, I met with Professor Judy Sebba, Director of the Rees Centre at the University of Oxford and Dr Nikki Luke, Research Fellow at the Centre, to discuss my research interests. I’ve always wanted to do a PhD to explore the health experiences of children in care with a view to making recommendations to improve their experiences of the health care service. So after our meeting I developed a research proposal and completed an application to undertake a PhD based at the Rees Centre, with Judy and Nikki being my supervisors. I didn’t think I had any chance of getting into the University of Oxford with my history of education.

I was completely overwhelmed when I found out that I had been invited for an interview. I don’t think I have ever felt as nervous as the day I went for my interview but then again, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything as much as I wanted to do a PhD!

A few weeks later I received an email confirming that I had been successful and I had a place reserved for doctoral study in the Department of Education (where the Rees Centre is based). Unfortunately, I wasn’t successful in getting a scholarship from the university so I had to look for other funding opportunities. We applied for a research grant from the Wellcome Trust and a couple of months later I received an email to confirm that I had been awarded a Wellcome Trust Society and Ethics Studentship that covers my tuition fees and stipend. I started my PhD at Oxford and I have just successfully completed my first year.

My research explores the health beliefs and health experiences of looked after children and young people in England. I hope that by adopting participatory, visual and creative research methods and by working with a youth advisory panel (made up of children and young people in care) my research will represent the voices of children in care. I want to develop recommendations for policy makers and health and social care providers to promote children’s engagement with health care services.

Find out more about my research here.

I am particularly enthusiastic about my research because my first memory of the health care system has traumatised me for life.

I was just seven years old when the police arrived at my house to escort my birth mother and me to the local paediatric hospital. They believed that I was being physically abused but they needed evidence before they could apply for a police protection order. That medical examination probably saved my life but it later impacted on my readiness to engage with the health care system. Various adults dressed in white coats stood around the examination bed where I lay naked, humiliated, and paralysed in fear. The examination felt like it lasted a life time because the paediatricians had to count, measure, and photograph every single bruise, cut, abrasion and cigarette burn that was on my body. One paediatrician even put a torch on his head and inspected my genitalia for any abnormalities or signs of sexual abuse. They also kept asking me how I got my injuries but I was too petrified to answer because my birth mother was standing right next to me. She had told me on several occasions that if I told anyone that she or my stepfather had hurt me, she would hurt or kill my little sister. Luckily for me, the police decided that my injuries were non-accidental and as a result, I was taken into emergency foster care and later placed on a full care order.

I also blog at


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One response to “How did I get here? Journey from care to PhD student”

  1. Michaela says:

    Your story is so inspiring! I am also a care leaver and I’m in my final year of study on a MA Social Work course.. I’m investigating how social workers can support care leavers in accessing higher education and given my own experience and finding out how few care leavers actually go on to get degrees is disgraceful in this day and age when soo much focus is apparently on promoting equality and abolishing social barriers.

    I would love to do a Ph.D. but I need to start working and paying my own way, luckily I have an amazing partner who has helped me afford to better myself

    However when I qualify I am going to everything in my power to raise awareness about the addional barriers we face and like you I am passionate about making changes nationally because some of the barriers I have faced have inexcusable.

    Keep going, what your doing is amazing!

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