A YOUNG North Belfast woman taken into care at the age of 13 has spoken of how a Belfast Trust support scheme has allowed her to enter the workplace and pursue her dream of becoming a business owner.

Darragh Phillips, 20, is just one of a large number of people who are exiting the care system with improved prospects thanks to the programme that is operated by the non-profit organisation Start360.

She was speaking at the Belfast Trust’s ‘Care Day’ celebration that highlights the positive work going in within social services.

The Ballysillan woman said she was looking forward to getting into the workplace.

“I was in care from 13 and at first I wanted to be a nurse but then I started getting into hairdressing and I have been doing that for three years,” she said.

“I’m finding it good because you get to meet different people every day and be creative by creating my own style. I’m best at curling.”

Working with the public has helped improve her personal development.

“I was shy talking to people but hairdressing brings me out a bit more. I want to open my own salon now. I am more confident and will be qualified by October. I’ll look for a job first to get money and experience and then open my own business.”

An overhaul of the programme that sought to improve the prospects of young people in care is reaping dividends, according to Roisin Murphy from Start360.

“The young people are heavily supported and we are gradually starting to grow the roles that are offered. Nursing Auxiliary, Administration and Catering are all available.

“What we do now is offer work place tours to spark the interest of the young people. On the tours they can quickly see if the job isn’t for them which is good because we can narrow down what job they would like, find out the criteria that needs to be met and then put a plan in place to help them achieve their goals.”

The care system is almost unrecognisable from the public perception that young people in difficulty are put in homes. The system now is heavily focused on fostering with a majority of the young people placed with families, many of whom are relatives. Support is then offered to help family cohesion.

Angela Burns, 20, was taken into care at just six months old. Originally from the Whiterock, she grew up in South Belfast and through Start360 is now pursuing a third level qualification in youth work.

She said she wants to work in a job where she can help young people seek opportunity.

“I’ve always wanted to do youth work and I’ve applied for the University of Ulster,” she said. “I have my interview with them on Tuesday to try and get in to do community work but it’s so hard because it’s very competitive.

“I have been focusing on mentoring and I find my own experience helps me with the young people. No-one knows people as well as young people.

“It’s challenging but it’s a good challenge. It challenges my mindset as well – it’s very interesting.”

That challenge is one that hasn’t put her off taking the job further.

“Nothing has put me off – the issues that arise just make me want to do it more so I can help give young people more opportunities.”