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Being a young adult carer at university

Posted at 26 July 2017

There are approximately 375,000 Young Adult Carers, between 14 - 25 years old, in the UK.

A young carer is someone who helps to look after a relative who has a condition, such as a disability, long-term illness (including mental health conditions) or a substance abuse problem. Often young carers are responsible for caring for one of their parents, or a sibling.

Whilst facing a number of challenges in day-to-day life, starting university can present a whole new set of difficulties for Young Adult Carers.

Paige, a young carer who studies Law at the University of Bolton, gave us an insight into, and advice on managing, being a Young Adult Carer at university.

Paige's story:

When I started university, it was the most exciting time of my life. I felt like I had achieved so much and that I was finally on the road to success. No one in my family had ever been to university before, so this was a really big deal. It was an even bigger deal, as I was also the main carer for my dad and brother, and had been since I was six years old.

I got through my first year without much of a problem. My grades were in the top 10% of my class and I was throwing myself into different societies and clubs. I even set up and became the chair of the Law society at the University. I didn’t want to tell anyone that I was a young carer, even though I had always had support at home, because I didn’t want to be treated differently and I just wanted to be identified as “normal”.

Second year came and I was still doing well. I was enjoying myself. The work was tougher but I was managing. But, when my brother got ill, my focus and priorities needed to change. I really knew I needed more support with my studies, for example extensions on assignments, but I still didn’t want to tell anyone. I thought I could just plod on through and it would all turn out okay.

When I got to third year, my own health was taking a beating. My dad’s health had deteriorated and I needed to be spending more and more time in my caring role. In the end, I had to suspend my studies. When I explained to my tutor what was going on, straight away he arranged for things to put in place to support me as much as the university could. I was able to re-sit exams I hadn’t passed and had regular meetings with the councillor they set up.

I had spent 4 years thinking I would be treated differently. After I had struggled on all that time I could have gotten the support and understanding I needed to finish my course. My advice would be to mention the fact that you are a carer. You won’t be treated differently, but if you ever needed support it would already be in place. There isn’t any need to struggle through; sometimes you do need a little support to achieve everything you want to do.

So remember, we are not different as carers. It’s just that we do different things and need different support. Make sure you get that support - I didn’t until it was too late. But now, one day, I will return to complete my studies.

We understand that coming to university can create challenges around the level of financial responsibility you face. We also know that some people have additional family responsibilities which adds to their financial pressures. For more information on how you can get support as a young adult carer, visit the website.