By Jackie Woodhouse
The closure of schools and colleges due the coronavirus has created huge challenges for the education sector and led to uncertainty for all young people. For some young people however, the pandemic is a particularly worrying and challenging time. Increased caring responsibilities at home and added worries about the health of the person they are caring for will impact significantly on young adult carers, whose caring responsibilities can already place them under high levels of practical and emotional pressure.
Young adult carers have a lot to offer, but their caring role can have a significant impact on their experiences and life chances, even at the best of times. By the time a young adult carer starts college, they have often already fallen behind. On average, they achieve nine lower GCSE grades then other young people and are more likely to miss days at college because they may need to come in late, leave at short notice or take time oﬀ. As a result, young adult carers are three times more likely to be NEET (not in education, employment or training) and five times more likely to drop out of college than their peers.
At least some element of remote learning is likely to continue for some time, and with this, an increased risk of isolation. In this context, providing colleges with the awareness and tools to support young adult carers to stay in education and to support their wider health and wellbeing, has become even more important.
Funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, our Driving Change project is currently working with colleges across England and Wales to review and improve the support that young adult carers receive in further education. Working in partnership with the Carers Federation, the project offers free and tailored consultancy advice to FE colleges who want to provide better support for young adult carers. Despite the challenges presented by closures, around 20 colleges in England and Wales are taking forward plans to improve their support and this will expand to include colleges in Scotland and Northern Ireland over the next two years. Pembrokeshire College for example is consulting with young adult carers on providing a social space (actual or virtual) where they can meet their peers to form a support network. The college is also developing new promotional materials to engage with young adult carers early in the application process, ensuring that support is in place from the outset.
The project builds on work with six colleges involved in last year’s pilot. Our evaluation of the pilot showed positive outcomes for the colleges involved, and for young adult carers. These included more tailored and comprehensive support for young people, increased confidence amongst staff to identify and support young adult carers and improved attendance, retention and progression of young adult carers.
Katie, a young person from one of the pilot colleges, has been sharing her experiences of being a young adult carer at some of the webinars we have been running recently with colleges participating in Driving Change. Her story has been really powerful in reminding us all of the everyday struggles and pressures faced by young people with caring responsibilities. It also demonstrates the real difference that effective support from colleges, working in partnership with local services, can make to individual young people. You can read Katie’s blog here.
We will continue to share our learning about the impact of the project as it progresses. We also look forward to working with more colleges across the whole of the UK to support young adult carers to benefit from learning and fulfil their potential.
Jackie Woodhouse, research manager, Learning and Work Institute