While the difficulties faced by young carers in school have long been acknowledged, the challenges that they encounter after leaving compulsory education are often overlooked.
“Young adult carers” are generally regarded as people aged 25 or below who provide unpaid care for a relative or friend with an illness, disability or addiction. Many have to balance their education with the needs of those they care for and, as a result, often become isolated from the providers and institutions that could help them with their learning and progression into employment.
Awareness of this problem has grown over the past two years. The Children and Families Act 2014 first recognised young adult carers as a group of carers entitled to support, while the Care Act published in the same year introduced a new right for young people aged 16-18 to have their specific needs assessed during their transition to adulthood.
Demands for change
But the Learning and Work Institute believes that more must be done to support carers. It is calling for three key policy changes: to allow young adult carers access to the 16-19 bursary fund; to exempt them from the rule that prevents any recipients of Jobseeker’s Allowance from participating in learning for more than 21 hours per week; and to give young adult carers flexible access to apprenticeships and traineeships.
Last month, the institute invited TES to a round-table event at which young adult carers – along with policymakers, researchers, FE providers and its patron, the Princess Royal – discussed the challenges that they face.
‘I didn’t get joined-up support’
Emily Hicks, young adult carer
“I have been a young carer from the age of 8. It has brought its difficulties, but it has also had its positives. I’ve achieved a lot from where I was at 16. I went from leaving school with no GCSEs whatsoever, to starting a level 1 course and then a level 2. Unfortunately, because of financial issues, I had to leave college and then go back a few years later. I thought, ‘This isn’t what I want to do’.
“When I went back to college I did my access course and received some support. But with the transition, my information wasn’t passed on, so it wasn’t until I was misbehaving, and nearly getting kicked out of college because of my behaviour, that it was then looked at.
If the information had been passed on, it would have been a lot easier. I think if they had asked me if I wanted to disclose it, I would have. But I felt that it wasn’t necessary, it was just not for me to actually point that out.
“I think that definitely needs to be something that anyone looks at; knowing that someone is aware of [the situation] does help a lot.”
‘Help stopped at sixth form’
Matt Hall, young adult carer
“I feel like I’m one of the lucky ones, even though I’ve been through a lot. I lost my mum when I was 5, and about two weeks after that, my brother was diagnosed with severe learning difficulties.
“I look back at my time in primary school and it was by pure chance that I was in a doctor’s surgery one day, and I saw a leaflet for Carers Bromley, an organisation I’m now associated with. The support that I received from them has been absolutely immense.
“Unfortunately, I found that support dropped off as I hit sixth form, because I was no longer seen as a young carer. Although I didn’t necessarily need a great deal of support at the time, it would have helped knowing that the continuation was still there.
“I found this in my application to university, in particular; in my personal statement I mentioned that I was a young carer, but, for some unknown reason, it didn’t get picked up. The process of transferring information, in my experience, hasn’t been very good, and it would have been a lot easier for me to settle in and perhaps get started on a better foot had they known about me before I went in.”
‘Stigmatised and isolated’
Nicola Aylward, head of learning for young people, Learning and Work Institute
“Over the years, I’ve met hundreds of young adult carers. I’m constantly in awe of their brutal honesty and willingness to talk about really difficult, traumatic and unfair experiences, for the benefit of others. Matt and Emily are fantastic. They’ve overcome extreme adversity to somehow muster the confidence and eloquence to speak to a packed conference.
“But we must remember that the majority of young adult carers aren’t able to do this. The reality is that many live in severe financial hardship. They feel stigmatised and isolated. They often feel depressed, lack confidence and are unable to go to college, get a job or start an apprenticeship.
“We need to improve access and support for young adult carers at all colleges and in all workplaces and take every opportunity to influence the new carers strategy so that all young adult carers can fulfil their basic right to learn and to go to work.”
‘Listen to young adult carers’
The Princess Royal, patron, Learning and Work Institute
“Moving on from school and going to further education – and how you tie that in with [being a] young adult carer and actually funding a course in a further education college that gives you the flexibility to carry on – is, I’m afraid, still quite difficult at the moment. I know that some further education colleges and learning providers really have learned how to engage and listen to young adult carers.
“But a lot of them still haven’t, and they need to look at ways of being more flexible – such as flexible start and finish times, utilising technology and support learning and allowing young adult carers to take breaks when crises occur.”