Going to university can be a challenging time ­­­– making new friends, moving away from home… It can be even more difficult if you have caring responsibilities. According to Carers Trust, 56% of young adult carers in college or university struggle because of their caring role. So who is a young carer? Is there enough support out there?

Brighton & Hove City Council define a carer as someone providing unpaid support to family or friends who wouldn’t be able to manage without this help. You don’t have to live in the same house as the person you care for. Young carers are defined as children under 18 who look after another family member. Carers Hub is a partnership of local charities and assessment staff who have joined together to provide information and support for unpaid carers. Sharlene Small, registered manager at Brighton & Hove Crossroads Care, is working with Carers Hub. She said: “Carers Hub is a designated area for carers, but some people, as they’re a family member, don’t class themselves as a carer.” Sharlene explained there are services to provide a break, training for lifting and technologies with CareLink Plus. “The most important thing you can do is look after yourself and I think people forget that, including young carers.”

Ruth Sullivan manages the Young Carers Team in Brighton & Hove for carers aged 6-17, before they reach 18 and go into adult services. Ruth said: “We support about 300 young carers. In the city, we estimate there are at least 2,000.” Ruth and her team are starting a drop-in this October with activities and access for one-to-one support. To attend, young carers need to contact Carers Hub and get assessed as a carer, then they’ll lead you through it. “The support carers get from us helps them to see that their aspirations are accessible or achievable. The young carers in this city are lucky because we have two universities on our doorstep, so it is possible to stay at home.”  Ruth and her team are currently working with the University of Sussex and BHASVIC College to create a pathway for young carers in education.

We offer advocacy and help them approach someone for support at uni, but really it’s trying to help them have the independent skills to ask for help, like extensions. Uni can seem a bit faceless so it’s about encouraging carers to have the confidence to ask.” Inform the uni of your situation, perhaps by highlighting your skills and strengths in your UCAS personal statement. Contact the university or college directly; student services’ details will be online. Or your referee, with permission, could mention your circumstances in the reference.

However, more support is needed. “We see a big dip in academic achievements with young carers, partly because their time is filled and also because they think this is what they are going to be doing for the rest of their life. Trying to manage the work load, going back and forward and looking after the person can be overwhelming.” The Safe and Well at School Survey is conducted every two years and Ruth said: “Young carers stand out significantly in the data around bullying, risk-taking and not feeling safe. Young carers are 40% more likely to get involved with risk-taking behaviours, including alcohol and sexual exploitation. We don’t yet know what the impact of the shrinking of services like mental health services has been on these young people.

“There are currently about 70 young people who sit in the 18-25 age group, a number of whom are going to university. What we became very aware of is they sit in the service gap where services are set up for young people or adults who are caring for a spouse or someone older, and there’s nothing really there to support someone making the steps to go out in their own lives as well.” Two leading researchers at the University of Sussex who came down last academic year are currently researching young carers accessing university. Ruth didn’t want to disclose too much yet, but said: “It’s throwing up some really interesting results.”

Whether or not you decide to further your education, information and support for carers in Brighton & Hove is available at www.carershub.co.uk.