Belfast Telegraph

Thrill-seeker Lauren was adopted aged four, now she plans skydive to help others in care system

Sharon, Lauren, Megan and Philip
Sharon, Lauren, Megan and Philip
Lauren in her Barnardo’s T-shirt
Lauren with Megan
Claire McNeilly

By Claire McNeilly

Not everyone wants to throw themselves thousands of feet from a plane for fun.

But a daredevil Co Down schoolgirl, who was adopted when she was just four-years-old, is getting ready to do just that in order to give a helping hand to other children and families within the care system.

GCSE student Lauren Houston, from Crossgar, who is a self-confessed adrenaline junkie, is hoping to raise £1,000 for Barnardo's NI by completing the Castlewellan Mud Run on June 16.

She will then follow it up with a birthday skydive the following month.

Having already raised an impressive £640, the Saintfield High pupil, who will be the school's deputy head girl next year, said that she is confident she can reach all her targets before she turns 16 on July 3.

Lauren, who revealed how she moved backwards and forwards between her birth mother and foster homes some 20 times from the age of seven months before eventually being adopted by the Houston family, said that she loves an exciting challenge.

"I've been fundraising for different charities for the past couple of years and this year I chose Barnardo's because it's very close to my heart," she said.

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"I was born in Dundonald and grew up in Bangor and Newtownards, but as a young child I was moved around quite a bit to different foster homes and then adopted when I was four.

"I don't really remember a lot about growing up when I was very young, but I've always felt part of this family. My former foster parents are still fostering other children all the time and that's really why I'm doing this.

"I want to give something back by raising money and awareness for children and families who are in a similar situation."

Lauren said that her life changed for the better when she found her mum Sharon (52), who runs a sign business with her dad Philip (51), and her older sister Megan (21), who recently graduated from university.

Mrs Houston told the Belfast Telegraph about Lauren's traumatic early childhood, which she described as "very unsettling".

"She moved about over 20 times... she was in three different foster homes but they kept putting her back to her birth mum to try and see if she could look after her properly but it didn't work out," she said.

Lauren added: "Mum had me at 16 and she was too young to look after me and she thought it would be better for me to have a different family."

Mrs Houston said that "all Lauren wanted was a mum and dad and a big sister" adding that "when she came, she settled in extremely quickly" apart from "a few sleepless nights".

Now, after providing her adopted daughter with a home for 11 years, the mum-of-two said that she couldn't be more proud of Lauren and her achievements to date.

Mrs Houston said that they decided to move down the adoption path after she had a difficult pregnancy with their birth daughter, which saw her end up in intensive care.

"There was no way I was going through it again... but we did want another child and we did want a little girl... and we had to wait five years before we got a match," she said.

"We were almost giving up when Lauren came along... and then she ended up moving in with us a week after we met each other. It all went much more quickly than I thought but it has all worked out fine.

"We're very lucky. There have been a few downs with Lauren, but I'm delighted to say she's come out the other end brilliantly and she's actually going to be deputy head girl next year in school."

Barnardo's Head of Northern Ireland, Michele Janes, said that Lauren, who was officially adopted by the Houstons on March 13, 2008, was a role model for others from similar backgrounds.

Barnardo's helps hundreds of thousands of the UK's most vulnerable children and provides support for young people who are in care.

"We all think Lauren is amazing; she's a strong and brave young woman - and she's clearly not deterred by mud or heights," she said.

"Here at Barnardo's we value each and every one of our fundraisers, but it is extra special when someone like Lauren, who has experience of the work that Barnardo's does, fundraises for us."

Lauren said that she has wanted to do a skydive for a very long time however, due to age restrictions, she had to wait until she turned 16.

So she booked the jump for the week following her 16th birthday.

And it's bound to be a big celebration, as Lauren revealed that she still keeps in touch with both sets of her former foster parents as well as her birth mother.

So, what's the best bit about becoming a Houston?

"I've always felt like part of the family and it's great," she replied.

As for mum Sharon, she admits that she couldn't be happier.

"It's lovely to have two girls...and also it's just lovely to have been able to give Lauren a good life because it could have been very different for her," she said.

"I'm very proud of the way she's grown up. So far, so good..."

If you would like to support Lauren, please visit her Facebook fundraising page www.facebook.com/donate/2186658811420798. For more inform ation regarding Barnardo's, visit www.barnardos.org.uk

Belfast Telegraph

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