A Carers Passport scheme will be most effective where it is coordinated by a designated staff member or team who have oversight of the full range of support available for student carers. It is important that a college or university-wide approach is developed and teams work closely together.
A Carer Passport scheme can be enhanced by strong partnership working between the University its Student Union, the local authority, health services, carer services and other local services. Liverpool John Moores University for example is working in partnership with Liverpool City Council and Barnardos’ Action with Young Carers Service, to ensure that young adult carers and those they are caring for receive a full assessment of their individual needs by appropriate agencies. A local carer service or young adult carer service can bring a wealth of expertise and add capacity to supporting student carers, and a Carer Passport can act as a gateway for students to access wider support.
A Passport can facilitate a conversation between Student Services and student carers which should trigger the provision of essential information that is needed by carers. Information would include how students can request an assessment of their needs and how to access additional support for them and their families. This conversation and information for students may be best delivered in partnership with a specialist carer service.
- Saving time for student carers
Student carers can be particularly time pressured as a result of their caring role and the additional travel that comes with that. Supporting student carers therefore with time saving initiatives can be particularly helpful. Even small changes such as providing more flexibility with returning books to the library can help relieve the pressure for students. Moreover, where a Passport gives priority or flexibility with parking, professional placements and accommodation for example, this could make a significant difference.
Challenges to overcome
- Organisation-wide awareness
One of the biggest challenges for a college or university in developing and implementing a successful Carer Passport will be organisation-wide awareness and accurate understanding of the scheme. There will be key staff such as Student Support Advisors and Tutors for whom it is vital to be aware of and understand how the Passport. A Carer Passport however will work most effectively where as many staff as possible are aware of the scheme and can inform students about it.
In a busy environment such as a college or university there will be numerous support initiatives for different student groups. Ensuring therefore that the key messages about the scheme are promoted effectively will be important to ensure that staff understand clearly who the scheme is for, what the main benefits are for students, and how the scheme is accessed.
- Time and competing priorities
It is acknowledged that schools have multiple and competing priorities on their time. However, young carers should not be held back in their education because of their family circumstances, and the benefits of supporting them will help support other school priorities. Where young carers are identified and supported early, their attendance is likely to improve and they are more likely to attain better grades. Moreover, young carers are one of the specific groups that Ofsted pays particular attention to. Working with a local young carer service, other local organisations and professionals will increase the capacity of schools to provide a Carer Passport scheme as many schools have already found.
- Promotion and communication to students
Ensuring that all students are aware of and have clarity about the scheme and how to access it will be key. Promotion of a Carer Passport needs to be proactive especially when students first arrive.
However during the first few weeks at college or university students will be faced with huge amounts of new information and they will likely be prioritising meeting others and establishing a peer group. Moreover, some students will only become carers or identify themselves as carers at a later point in their studies. Promotion of a scheme therefore should be ongoing and extend beyond enrolment, fresher’s fayres and inductions. Students may be reluctant to self-identify as carers, so it is important to emphasise the benefits and the confidential nature of the scheme.
Universities and colleges with mature students should ensure that a Carer Passport meets the needs of student carers of all ages and circumstances and that promotion of the scheme makes this clear.
- Criteria for a Carer Passport and wider interventions
Colleges and universities may be unsure of what criteria to use for a Carer Passport and for any targeted support for students such as eligibility for a bursary. They may also struggle with how they verify whether a student meets the criteria, and may be concerned that students might try and access a Carer Passport illegitimately.
Many student carers will not have had a formal assessment as a carer from their local authority, however this should not indicate that they are not a carer. Colleges and universities should therefore be flexible with what they require as proof of being a carer. They may wish to accept a variety of evidence such as a reference or letter from a GP, or from a carer service that has previously supported the student.
Promoting Carer Passport schemes in colleges and universities
Promotion of a Passport scheme across a large college or university can be challenging. However, since a student might mention something that could trigger their identification as a carer at any point, it is vital that as many staff as possible are made aware of the Passport through communications, staff training and induction. Several universities including The Universities of Salford and De Montfort University, have established a dedicated webpage for student carers that sets out key contacts for students and the support available. The University of Manchester Student’s Union has developed an information e-booklet for student carers and Sheffield Hallam University has created a short film to promote its support for student carers.
Some students base their choice of university on their understanding of the support that will be available to them as student carers. Promoting a Passport before students arrive through widening participation activities in secondary schools, in college or university promotional literature and communications would therefore be productive. Promoting a scheme on websites where students will be visiting whilst applying to college or university, through carer organisations and on local authority websites, will help encourage students and give them confidence that with support, studying is a viable option for them.
Students applying to university from 2018 will have the opportunity to state that they are a carer and so universities will be in a better position to target new student carers. Making new students aware of the Passport at enrolment, through course inductions, registration and at Fresher’s Fayres would be valuable, perhaps with by providing students with a welcome pack for carers.
It is important that not only key staff such as Personal Tutors are aware of a Carer Passport scheme, but also staff in general. This increases the chances of student carers being informed about and connected to a scheme.
Promotion through intranet announcements and posters placed strategically in canteens, counselling areas, student unions and GP surgeries are useful for drawing the attention of students to a Passport scheme. Dedicated awareness days including Young Carers Awareness Day, Carers Week, Carers Rights Day and other more generic student wellbeing events provide ideal opportunities for highlighting a Carer Passport to both students and staff.