Young Carers

Impact

Every young person gets faced with the difficult decision of whether university is right for them, or if they need to take an alternative path for their future. Most worry about issues such as the scary world of student finance, whether they can achieve the grades to get into their first choice university or how good their social life will be once they get there. Whilst researching how widening participation could best support young carers with their decision and transition to university, it became clear that young carers face additional struggles to other ‘typical’ students.  The first step to being able to fully support young carers is identifying factors as to why they may not progress to higher education in order to tackle them head on. 

Barriers

Research by the Department for Education found that many young carers found balancing caring responsibilities and school work challenging, which often leads to lower educational attainment.  Carers UK have an excellent report which fully explains the educational difficulties that young carers face, and may be a great starting point for gaining a deeper understanding of these difficulties. 

Feelings of guilt have been self-reported by young carers when discussing why they may not move forward with education. This is an important consideration for young carers as it has been found that many feel guilty for leaving their cared for person, this can also be coupled with feelings of anxiety that something may happen in their absence.  

As with many students that widening participation targets, research indicates that finances are a major concern for young carers. The Carers Trust found some interesting findings in a piece of 2013 research; out of 84% of young carers that said they intended to go to university, 24% thought they could not afford to go. However 41% were ‘unsure’ whether they could afford it… which leads onto the final barrier of…

A lack of targeted IAG. Although there are additional barriers faced by young carers, none should prevent them from realising their full potential. Issues such as finances can be addressed and good quality and specific advice needs to be offered to students to help them reach a balanced and informed decision. 

Where to go from here..

Currently there is a lack of evidence based research into best practice in how widening participation can support young carers. Reviewing the current literature and several young carer projects that are going on around the country has revealed some activities and areas of focus that may help to overcome some of the previously highlighted challenges. These include:

  • Group activities; Group activities, workshops and training have contributed to building resilience through increasing confidence, reducing isolation and developing support networks and friendships.
  • Confidence building; The Carers Trust have reported that 65% of young carers who attended a project specific to them felt that it improved their confidence and 39% of students felt they had performed better at school because of the project. Considering this research, there is a strong evidence base that suggests activities that focus on improving the confidence of young carers will be beneficial.
  • IAG; Targeted careers advice should be available to young adult carers which addresses their caring responsibilities, financial responsibilities at home and financial concerns for education. This report from the Carers Trust has created IAG guidelines for schools which can be usefully adapted for WP.
  • Partnerships and networks; There is strong evidence that networks bring many benefits to young carers. Projects should give young carers the chance to learn about networks with specialist expertise and also socialise with those in a similar position to them, giving them a chance to share feelings and experiences. 

Widening participation practitioners are important parts of these networks. They can provide a link between schools and local services. There is an importance to work with schools to help identify young carers and to signpost them to relevant services, especially in their local area. If widening participation work isn’t linked locally, some young people may miss out on opportunities. Understanding how widening participation can play a part in creating and widening local networks really highlights the value of work that widening participation does!

To wrap it up

There are great projects going on around the country that are working on providing young carers with the tools they need to make important decisions about their future, such as the Young Carer Residential that Study Higher held in August 2019, a video of the residential can be found here! Monthly social support groups offered by Carers First have resulted in 155 young adult carers having increased breaks and more time for themselves; whilst Solihull Carers Centre worked with several universities outreach departments to increase young carers attending open days. As a result their aspirations were raised and university was realised as a future option. These projects are showing that dedication from widening participation and other organisations can really change the course of young carers futures.   

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