More support needed for young adult carers

21 March 2012

Dame Philippa Russell, Chair of the Government’s Standing Commission on Carers, endorsed NIACE’s position at a conference on 21 March, that learning providers need to do more to identify and support young adult carers to engage in learning and to help them to access the opportunities that most young people take for granted.

Who Cares? Supporting Young Adult Carers to Learn highlighted that colleges, universities and other providers are often not aware of the needs of young adult carers and that when they are, they sometimes fail to offer effective support to enable them to engage in learning in a way that helps them to achieve their potential.

Dame Philippa Russell encouraged delegates to get actively involved in influencing the policy agenda and to advocate for better learning and support for young adult carers, including responding to the forthcoming White Paper that will be published by the Government shortly. NIACE will soon publish a briefing to highlight what providers, young adult carers and support workers can do to contribute to this agenda.

Carol Taylor, Director for Development and Research at NIACE, said:

“Dame Philippa spoke movingly about the needs of young adult carers and exhorted people to engage in the debate. NIACE is committed to taking forward this agenda, with The Princess Royal Trust for Carers, to raise awareness amongst policy makers and providers and to encourage them to actively engage in the debate.”

In the UK there are approximately 230,000 self-declared young adult carers between the ages of 16-25. However, in reality the figures are likely to be much higher. Due to the hidden nature of caring and the associated stigma, bullying and discrimination, many young adults do not identify themselves as carers, or are unwilling to openly disclose their responsibilities.

“Staff who teach you need to come together to talk about it. They need to be taught what a carer is. Why should I have to make an excuse about why I’m not there? Why should I have to lie?” (Young adult carer)

“I really want to do well on this course and I know I’ve got to behave, or I’m gonna get kicked out of college. But sometimes I lose control, I just feel so angry about things at home. I feel like I can’t stand it anymore and I just explode. I don’t know how much longer I can carry on. But I don’t want to leave them either.” (Young adult carer)

“In some ways I hate being different, but in other ways I’m quite proud of what I’ve achieved. I think I’m more mature than lots of other young people, and I’m good at sorting things out, money and stuff. And talking to officials. I’ve had to grow up fast.” (Young adult carer)

These comments were made by young adult carers who were consulted through NIACE’s Who Cares? project. As a result of their caring responsibilities, young adult carers commonly experience a range of personal difficulties which include feelings of isolation, tiredness and mental and physical health problems. They have little time for themselves and activities outside the home, so their friendships and wider relationships suffer.

It is not surprising, therefore, that caring responsibilities have a major impact on young adults’ experiences of learning. They have frequent absences, are often late for classes, experience tiredness and are often unable to complete work on time. As a consequence a high proportion of young adult carers have low aspirations, fail to achieve their potential and leave education with few or no qualifications. In addition, negative experiences of learning, such as bullying and lack of understanding by peers and professionals, mean that many young adult carers become deeply marginalised and ‘turned off’ learning at a young age.

For most young adults, the age span of 16-25 presents opportunities and challenges. It is the pivotal period during which most young adults make the transition to adulthood, and the choices, opportunities, responsibilities and rewards that this brings. A fundamental part of this transition phase is the acquisition of skills, qualifications, experiences and relationships – a gradual shift away from dependence to independence. However, for young adult carers the transition experience is often very different. As a result of their caring responsibilities, many young adults do not make linear transitions, are not afforded the opportunities taken for granted by their peers, and therefore become isolated and disaffected.

Within the wider cohort of young adult carers aged 16-25, there are likely to be many young adults with a learning difficulty. Little is formally known about the experiences of this group; it is thought that many are involved in mutual care relationships and that the level of disadvantage, isolation and social exclusion they experience is greatly increased as a result of being a carer and having a learning difficulty. However, effective and supportive learning can bring many benefits for this group of young adults.

“I get really tired and sometimes I feel really down. I do like being a carer, but I want to be able to do things for me too.” (Young adult carer with a learning difficulty)

“When you are learning, you are learning to help yourself.” (Young adult carer with a learning difficulty)