WHEN Beth Gray was 13, her life fell apart – she was taken into foster care and within a year she was a heavy drug user.
At 15, she was thrown out of her foster home because her behaviour was so bad and she was expelled from school.
She did not sit any exams. She had no future, no hope and no self-esteem.
Today Beth is the living embodiment of triumph over adversity. She is a loving mother and daughter, has gone to college to get exams and has a new sense of self-worth.
Her achievement has seen her win a Colchester Youth Award and she is determined to use her own experiences to help other youngsters.
Beth’s life has not been easy. It began to unravel when she was six-years-old.
When I ask her about her childhood, she looks down. The memories are still painful for her.
Beth’s home life deteriorated and she eventually went into a foster home. It was only supposed to be a temporary arrangement but she was separated from her younger brothers.
She speaks with quiet uncertainty: “I was unhappy. I missed them. I missed my mum – she is my best friend.
“I got in with the wrong crowd.
I got kicked out of school.”
That crowd was a gang of about 20 youngsters. Beth continues: “They used to fight and rob people. I didn’t do anything wrong, but I was with that crowd.
“At the time I thought it was good, but now I wish I had not done it.”
After leaving her foster home, Beth moved from place to place until she found herself in a situation so violent, she knew she had to get out.
She said: “I was hiding under the sink and I called my nan.
“My grandad came and kicked down the door and they put me in the back of his van.”
Beth, whowas now16, left with nothing – no clothes, no possessions.
She moved to Colchester to be with her mum, Becky.
Together they went to see Becky’s counsellor and it was to be a changing point in Beth’s life.
She was refered to the Children’s Society and was given a support worker, Becca Bailey.
Throughout the interview, Beth looks across to Becca for reassurance. Becca is Beth’s moral compass, the light who has guided her out of the darkness.
When they first met, Beth’s self-esteem and confidence were at rock bottom. She could not leave the house on her own, she had no friends and took drugs daily.
Becca said: “Everthing we suggested, she panicked and said she could not do it. When we went with her, she did it.
“We took her to the gym and she was like a rabbit in the headlights.”
The fight to give up drugs was not easy – Beth had been taking them daily for more than two years.
Beth, who is now 18, admits: “It was a real struggle.”
But she is now clean and has been so for more than a year.
Today, she does not even smoke. On New Year’s Day, she had just two drinks before she went to bed.
Slowly, her fragile personality is growing stronger.
Beth went back to college and passed her first exams – BTECs in English, maths, ICT, health and social care and child care.
As she talks about this phase in her life, she smiles, even giggles, and her face lights up.
I ask what her greatest achievement is and she laughs: “I don’t wear fake tan any more.”
Joking aside, it is massively important. She also no longer dyes her hair bleach blond nor wears thick make-up.
This is because Beth is no longer trying to hide, she is not seeking be someone else and has, at last, found a sense of peace and her own self-worth.
She looks forward to the future and wants to continue her diploma in childcare.
She has a daughter, six-month-old Holly, and desperately wants to be a good mum to her.
She says she wants to be like Becca and help youngsters who have had hard childhoods.
She said: “I know she is my support worker, but she is like my idol.
“She has given me a lot, she has given me aspirations. I want to be a mum like my mum. She is supportive and would do anything for me. I want Holly to have the best life.”
Beth has experienced hardship and sadness, but she said: “I don’t regret it. I would not be where I am now.
“Everything I have done has made me the person I am now.
“I have more respect now, I know what I want to do with my life.”
BETH won Colchester Youth Awards’ personal journey category.
Pictures of her receiving her award are framed on her wall.
She is proud of her achievement, but no-one is more proud than Becca.
She said: “As a service, we are extremely proud of her.
Beth was a broken person when we met her.
“Her strength of character has pulled her through.”
NOMINATIONS are now being received for this year’s awards.
Youngsters aged 11 to 25 and who live, work or study in the Colchester borough can be nominated. The seven categories are personal journey, outstanding achievement, learning achievement, volunteer, entrepreneur, community improvement and arts.
For more details, go to www.
colchester youth awards .org