A YOUNG mum who spent her teenage years in local authority care is using her experience to help challenge people’s views and inspire other youngsters to reach their goals.

Leah Hay, 24, works with East Lothian Champs Board, which gives care-experienced young people an opportunity to shape the support and services they are given.

And she brings invaluable insight to her role as a participation assistant after spending her teenage years in the care of East Lothian  Council.

Leah not only works with youngsters, she also leads training sessions with people from all corners of the establishment, from Police Scotland to headteachers and those in charge of social services.

She said: “As someone who has been in their situation, it is easier for care-experienced young people to talk to me.

“I am one of two participation assistants with that experience behind us and it really helps. I can also say to them, when they think they can’t do things or achieve anything: ‘Look at me, I did it.’

“If I can do it so can they and I hope I am proof of that and help them realise what they can do if they put their minds to it.”

Leah’s world changed when she was about to start secondary school in East Lothian.

She was attacked by a large group of girls in the street and left so afraid that she refused to attend classes.

Attempts to get her to school repeatedly failed and eventually social services stepped in and she was sent to a residential school from the age of 13 to 15.

Despite the trauma of the attack, Leah does not feel anger towards those involved, saying only “they had their own issues to deal with”.

And while she initially found living away from her family difficult, she looks back at the move as a turning point.

She said: “I had never even spent a night away from my mum so it was a massive challenge but looking back now I am so grateful because if I had not been sent away I would not have any qualifications.”

When Leah returned home, further challenges arose after she found out she was pregnant.

Aged just 16 and with a new baby, she found herself in accommodation with strict rules.

She was not allowed visitors to stay, including her mother, and had daily checks from social services to ensure she and baby Jordan were doing okay.

Leah said: “It was really hard being on my own with Jordan as a baby but I had support from the service with someone checking on us daily.

“I learned to speak up for myself to get help when I was in housing with damp and other problems and now I can help others find their voice.”

Leah found work as a carer in her home town of Tranent before taking on the role of participation assistance with the board.

Her work recently saw her named Young Achiever of the Year by the Tenants’ Information Service and she is about to start training through her job for her SVQ Level 2 Social Services (Children and Young People).

Leah said: “I enjoy working with young people and encouraging them to reach their goals as well as being able to challenge the perceptions some have about care-experienced youngsters through training programmes. I am fortunate to be able to use my experience to make a difference and hope I can continue to do so.”