Why should colleges support young adult carers?
College is an important step for young people to access both the workplace and higher education. Historically, young adult carers have struggled to access college due to their grades in school and their caring role – young adult carers aged 16-18 are twice as likely to be not in education, employment, or training (NEET) than their peers.
There are carers in every institution although many are likely to be hidden. Recent research revealed that of the young adult carers who informed their college, 45% felt there was no one to help them (Sempik, Becker 2013). This discourages young adult carers from coming forward as they see ‘no point’ in telling anyone.
The pressure that academic study, paid work and caring puts on young adult carers is reflected in the high rates of mental ill health reported to Carers Trust. 45% of those surveyed reported a mental health problem – almost twice the national average.
The result of this is that, without the right support, young adult carers can struggle to do as well as their peers at college. A recent survey by the National Union of Students showed that only 36% of student carers felt able to balance their commitments, compared with 53% of students without caring responsibilities. This can have a negative impact on their life opportunities and the forming of their own identity and independence.
Young adult carers experiences of college
Harriet was caring for her dad (she now cares for mum) when she was 16/17 and at college. She was a lone carer – her mum and dad split up when she was 13 and her dad developed a drink problem.
At school Harriet had a sympathetic teacher who knew about her home life and gave her the right support. She got very good results at GSCE with 15 A and A* grades.
She went onto Sixth Form College and because of her academic excellence, they wanted her to take seven AS levels and didn’t want her to drop any. As Harriet says, “this would have been difficult for anyone, let alone someone running a house and caring for a parent.”
As a result of the pressure Harriet struggled. She asked for more support from the college which was given and then withdrawn when she had to miss sessions because of her caring responsibilities. She also had some counselling sessions but she didn’t find them practically helpful.
Due to the lack of support at college and the situation at home, Harriet was diagnosed with depression and failed all of her exams.
Harriet decided to leave the college and discovered there was no record of her being a carer or being diagnosed with depression on her records, despite her saying so many times.
Harriet has now left education and is being supported to secure an apprenticeship by her local carers service.