Why should universities support young adult carers?
Going to university gives young people the chance to become independent, carve out their own identity and get the skills they need to embark on their chosen career. For young adult carers university is particularly important because it allows them to distance themselves from their caring role.
There are carers in every institution although many are likely to be hidden. Research by Carers Trust has shown that young adult carers are four times more likely to drop out of university than their peers, a shocking statistic that underlines the additional challenges faced by young adult carers at university.
There are many possible reasons for this. Research from Carers Trust revealed that 42% of the young adult carers at university surveyed were in paid employment whilst studying for their degree. This included young adult carers who were providing the highest level of care. This statistic suggests that young adult carers are concerned about finance and may not feel that bursaries are enough to get them through the year.
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 survey 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 university. This can have a negative impact on their life opportunities and the forming of their own identity and independence.
Young adult carers experiences of university
Jessie is 24. She has a degree and is at university studying for a Master’s. She cares for her mother, who has cancer, and for her elderly grandparents. She has been caring since her mother was diagnosed with cancer two years ago.
She cares for her family for 50 hours during the week and 20 at weekends as well as working 4-8 hours a week as a waitress and completing her Masters course. Despite this, Jessie has never had a formal carer’s assessment.
Although Jessie is studying and working outside of her home, she feels that she “can’t escape it when there is someone who needs constant care in your home, your house is no longer your own… you can’t just do the things you normally do, you always have to think and act for others first.”
Jessie believes that her physical health is ‘Just OK’ and she feels she has a mental health problem.
What is already being done to support young adult carers
There is growing recognition that young adult carers need better support at university. Two significant pieces of research of carers at university are Young adult carers experiences at college and university published by Carers Trust and Learning with Care published by the National Union of Students (NUS). These show examples of good practice and have recommendations on how universities can better support young adult carers.
Currently, there are very few, if any, examples of universities that have policies specifically designed to support young adult carers at university. However, Carers Trust is currently working with a group of universities to produce a toolkit so universities can better support young adult carers. The toolkit will be available in early 2015. Keep checking the website for more details.
Carers Trust in partnership with NUS and The University of Nottingham held an event over two days in June 2014. 200 young adult carers, support workers and decision makers came together to discuss how young adult carers could be better supported to access university.
In 2013, Carers Trust commissioned the University of Nottingham to undertake research to examine the experiences and aspirations of young adult carers with regards to school, further and higher education, and work. A total of 362 people viewed the survey, and responses from 295 young adult carers aged 14–25 were analysed. Read the full Time to be Heard report - Young Adult Carers and Employment.