Mother-of-three who grew up in care achieves a lifelong dream by graduating from university

A mother-of-three who grew up in care has graduated from Keele and achieved a life-long dream.


  • A mother-of-three who grew up in care has graduated from university and achieved a life-long dream;
  • Berenice Hughes lived in care from the age of four and never thought university was an option for her;
  • Her husband arranged a secret interview for her at Keele University, where she has secured a degree In Criminology and Psychology. 

A mother-of-three who spent her childhood in care has achieved her lifelong dream of graduating from university.

Berenice Hughes was taken into care at four years old and lived in several foster homes before leaving the care system at 18 and becoming temporarily homeless.

Statistically, care experienced students currently form less than 2% of all applications to higher education in the UK. And back in 1998 when Berenice's peers would have been heading off to university, the chances of somebody in her position doing the same were 'non-existent' in her own words. 

But today, Berenice, now aged 43, graduated from Keele University with a Degree in Criminology and Psychology. And she has landed a job working for the NSPCC, where she will combine her life experiences with her education to help vulnerable children.  

'University just wasn’t an option'

Berenice said: "Going to university for people like me was unheard of. It just wasn't an option. I know a lot of people who I grew up in care with and they have never done anything other than work."

Interview at Keele University 

Berenice met Chris, her husband of 18 years, in 2002, and worked in local authority social services, alongside bringing up her children, before starting her degree in 2019. 

She said: "I'd always wanted to go to university but I constantly told myself I didn't have it in me, and that people like me didn't go to university. I didn’t know it back then but my husband went to Keele and got me an interview because he probably knew I wouldn’t do it by myself.

"He took me to the campus for a look around and then we had what I thought was just a chat with the Director of the Foundation Year, but it turned out to be an interview. I got offered a place and it was all a bit of a mad rush to get the student finance sorted and everything else but Chris told me he believed in me and I had fantastic support from my children, so I handed my notice in at work and went for it."

Dyslexia diagnosis at 39 

Despite finally realising her dream and making it to university, there were still bumps in the road ahead for Berenice. She found the Foundation Year difficult and came close to quitting at one point before a life-changing dyslexia diagnosis.

She said: "In the first few months I struggled immensely. I was finding it difficult to write essays and I couldn't work out why, because I had produced court reports throughout my career in social services and never had any issues. I came close to quitting and I had a meeting with my lecturers and after their advice I got tested and discovered I was dyslexic just before I turned 40.

"I don't think I'd ever stayed in one school long enough in my childhood to be assessed, and I do struggle with organisation, but I always thought that was part of my personality. It was a relief when I found out I was dyslexic because I'd started to think I wasn't intelligent enough to do the degree and it was really getting me down. After the diagnosis, the support I received from the university was fantastic. I had a mentor assigned to me and things began improving quickly.

"I've had a fantastic time at Keele and made some lifelong friends which I wasn't sure I would do because of the age gap. I’m gutted it's over now but I've got a bit of a hankering to come back and do a Master's one day, so we shall see."