Closing the attainment and opportunity gap for young adult carers  

Elizabeth Taylor and Calvin Lees introduce a practical resource developed to help further education providers identify and support young adult carers

Elizabeth Taylor is Education Officer, Carers Trust Wales. Calvin Lees is Project Officer, Learning and Work Institute

For many young adult carers continuing into further education does not seem like an option that is open to them. This can be because of a range of barriers, including:

  • incompatibility of the demands of their caring role with that of their chosen course
  • low self-esteem
  • the financial implications of continued study on their household income
  • not having the right academic qualifications to access the courses they would like to study.

Further education providers have an important role to play in encouraging more young adult carers to continue their education. To enable them to provide this support, it is essential that all professionals are given the information and tools to understand the challenges facing carers and how they can best be overcome.

 

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“At 15 I left school with 2 GCSEs. I was told by my mother that I must go to college or get a job that earnt me enough to cover the money she would lose in tax credits should I choose not to continue in education.

I loathed school and the thought of college appealed to me even less. Throughout college I’d be constantly late as I would need to dress my brothers, give them breakfast, try to wake my mother up to take us and then walk the 15 minutes to school as I’d almost always fail to wake her in time. I never seemed to plan my time well enough to ensure I could get my brothers there for 8:45 and myself to college by 09:15, which was a 30-minute bus ride from the school.

In addition to being late, I struggled to concentrate, I was ‘easily distracted’ or so my tutors would tell me. In reality, I was struggling to concentrate because I’d be worrying: worrying that I’d had no time to do my course-work and what new excuse I could use or that it was my brothers non- school uniform day and I hadn’t done a wash load. Worrying what state my mother would be in when I returned home, would she still be in bed, would she have made dinner or would she be sat on her own sobbing; all topics to sway my concentration from the classroom.

When you read this, you might be asking yourself, “why is a young person having to do all these things that a parent is usually tasked with”. The answer- I was a young adult carer. My mum suffered and still to this day suffers with Clinical Depression”.

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The scale of the challenge

There are at least 21,000 young adult carers aged between 16 and 25 in Wales who deal with very similar challenges to those outlined above, throughout their education. They may look after a friend or a family member with an illness, disability, mental health problem, or an addiction, who would not be able to cope without their support, often leading to a negative impact on their educational attainment and wellbeing.

For those that go onto further or higher education, they are four times more likely than their peers to drop out without gaining a qualification or completing the course they are registered on.

Young adult carers remain substantially less likely than their peers to not be in or outside of education, employment or training.

Some positive steps have been made to understand the support available to young adult carers who attend college, for example Estyn collect data through pre-inspection questionnaires. But more needs to be done to fully understand the needs of this cohort and how they can be meaningfully addressed.

It is important that further education providers and local authorities are encouraged to work together with young adult carers and their families to fully understand their needs and how they can be most appropriately supported.

 

What barriers do Young Adult Carers face?

Carers Trust Wales and Learning and Work Institute have worked in partnership to develop research to gain a broader understanding of the barriers student carers face in education.  

The research revealed that there is a lack of support for carers within many colleges in Wales. In the worst cases this resulted in some young adult carers feeling unable to continue in education. It also demonstrated that support for young adult carers is inconsistent, and often inadequate.

Young adult carers frequently reported poor attendance and difficulty concentrating in lessons as a direct result of their caring responsibilities:

“I would always be under so much stress, worrying about my dad and everything. …. I would be writing everything up and then all of a sudden …I would be like, ‘Oh, I forgot to do that’ or, ‘I need to do that later for my dad’ and it would affect it.’

 

Making successful identification and support easier

There are many ways young adult carers can be supported to achieve their ambitions. Carers Trust Wales and The Learning and Work Institute have developed an interactive resource designed to help further education providers increase their awareness and understanding of young adult carers and their specific needs.

Supporting Students with Caring Responsibilities: A Resource for Further Education Providers to Help Young Adult Carers Succeed In Further Education in Wales is an interactive guide which draws together good practice and makes recommendations for how student carers can be supported to sustain their participation in learning and achieve their potential.

A range of further education providers have welcomed this resource and we hope that it will generate momentum for identifying and supporting more young adult carers within colleges. It is our intention that the toolkit will be used to inspire and assist all colleges to build on the good practice already identified to develop their own approaches to identifying and supporting this student group.

It is essential that students who are caring for others – who have often overcome difficult circumstances and acquired extremely valuable skills along the way – are able to reach their potential and successfully achieve their aims in education.

 

This series of articles to mark Carers Week have been guest edited by Kate Cubbage

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

 

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