College gave me hope for the future despite my caring responsibilities

10 June 2015

My name is Craig and I’m 18 years old. I live in Bristol and I care for my mum, who has Bipolar disorder, and for my dad, who has Parkinson’s. I also have a 13 year old sister who helps out at home, but as the oldest child most of the caring is my responsibility.

I was 12 when I started caring. It was really hard at first. I tried to hide it from my friends and teachers, but people began to find out. One or two teachers were understanding, but most showed no interest. They didn’t want to know why I was late, or why I hadn’t done my homework. I was quickly labelled as being ‘thick’. Because of this, and because I wanted to fit in with everyone else, I started messing around a lot at school. I liked making people laugh and being the centre of attention, probably because I didn’t really get any attention at home. But after a couple of years things at home got even worse and I stopped being the joker at school. I felt resentful and angry about having to care for my family. I was bullied about my mum’s mental health problems and I went off the rails a bit,  getting into fights and trouble at school.

I didn’t pass any GCSEs. At the time I just wanted to get away from school. I thought I’d be able to get a job and earn some money. I’ve had casual work as a labourer for a local builder, but he didn’t like it when I had to take time off when my mum’s condition deteriorated. Last year I went to a local college to find out about courses I could do. I told them about my mum and dad and that I hadn’t done well at school. They said I could start an access course, but that “I’d need to leave my baggage at the door” – I decided this college wasn’t for me. As a carer you can’t leave ‘baggage’ at the door. The worry, stress and fears about the future don’t go away because you happen to be in a classroom or on a building site. I’m now studying at a different college. I’ve just completed a level 1 course in plastering and got a maths and English qualification. I’ve had brilliant support during the last six months. My tutor understands the pressures I’m under at home, she listens to me and treats me like an adult. She’s also spoken to my other teachers who have also been good. A few weeks ago my dad fell over and fractured his arm. The college didn’t mind me taking time off. I got an extension for an assignment that was due and they arranged some catch up sessions for me.

I used to find it hard to think positively about the future as I felt trapped and lonely. But I’m enjoying college now and the fact that they make an effort to understand what it’s like for me at home makes me feel like I’m worth something. I feel like I might be able to do well and achieve things for myself and my family. One of my teachers even suggested that I could go to university in the future. My mum was so proud when I mentioned this to her. I’ve still got a long way to go, but thanks to the support I’m getting at college I’m learning new practical skills, becoming more confident and I have hope for the future.