Posted on 22/10/2019

Balancing a caring role and university: catching up with Chloe Rollings – Young Adult Carer of the Year 2018

Balancing a caring role and university: catching up with Chloe Rollings – Young Adult Carer of the Year 2018

"Students with caring responsibilities can have the same opportunities to succeed with the right support.”

Last year we had the pleasure of talking to Chloe Rollings, a young woman who became a carer for her younger brother at the age of just 19. Since then, Chloe has graduated from university with first class honours and completed an internship whilst continuing to care for her brother. She has won awards for her contribution to care and continues to be a pioneer for young carers, especially those who are in education or in their early career and are balancing their work with their caring role.

We recently caught up with Chloe to ask her more about being a carer whilst at university and find out what she has been getting up to since graduating.

Becoming a young carer

Chloe’s life as a family carer began suddenly in 2015 when her brother was injured whilst playing football.

“I became a Young Adult Carer aged 19, during my first year at university. One Sunday afternoon I received a phone call to say that my brother had an accident on the football pitch, where he had collided heads with the goalkeeper, and they were on their way to the hospital. By the time I got there, my brother had become a stranger to his own life, and I had become an unpaid family carer.”

A lot had changed for Chloe and her family in a short amount of time and Chloe soon had to learn how to juggle her university studies whilst being an active part of her brother’s support network at home.

“I have been a part of the support network for my brother since 2015 and I would mostly help him to be as independent as possible. This would include walking him to and from places, helping him to fill out paperwork, helping him plan his week and set update reminders, taking him to social events and be a listening ear. As his sister, I would work with him to capture the memories he had held onto, find ways to prompt his memory and help him rebuild his relationships with family members and friends.”

Chloe’s role as a carer is changing as her brother grows older and develops into an adult. She told us a little more about this transition, how it has changed their relationship and the ways in which she supports him.

“The caring role for my brother focuses on supporting him in his transition into adulthood, and continuing to support him to be independent. This includes taking him on overnight trips, using public transport, teaching him how to cook and how to manage his budget.”

Balancing university life and caring responsibilities

Chloe had only been at university for a few weeks when her brother’s accident occurred, leaving her to decide whether or not to return to university. She eventually returned, but found herself battling feelings of guilt from taking time away from caring – common amongst many carers.

“’The Call’ changed my entire life as I knew it and so returning to University was the hardest but the best decision for me. My biggest personal challenge was overcoming the overwhelming feeling of guilt that I experienced. I felt guilty for moving forward in my life, for being independent and for being so far away when I felt I was needed. Although my family were incredibly supportive of my studies and independence, there was still a part of me that felt I should have been there to support them.”

Learning to divide her time between home and university whilst keeping up with her work was one of Chloe’s biggest challenges. She had to learn to stay organised, work harder and spend a lot of time travelling back and forth. Her time at university and caring role at home both influenced each other and her energy levels were often affected.

“Caring responsibilities also had a huge impact on my university experience. I split my time between university and home by arranging my study time into 3 or 4 days a week and spending the rest of the week at home. This often meant I was working late at night and early in the morning to ensure that I was able to meet my deadlines. My outgoings were also much higher due to the cost of travel and I missed out on social opportunities if I was at home. Unsurprisingly, this split had an impact on my energy and stress levels, both of which were affected during assignments or if something happened at home.”

Although Chloe is now a passionate advocate for young carers, it wasn’t until a couple of years into her degree that she realised she was a family carer and understood that she was not alone in her challenges to keep up with work and provide care for her sibling. The need for support and understanding from university lecturers and other academics became an important part of her university life. Having this support made her day to day experience at university easier and lessened any worries that she could miss important calls from her family.

“Another impact of my caring role was the need to be on standby. This instilled a need in me to answer every call from home, regardless of time, place or situation. Thankfully my academics were really understanding and allowed me to leave to take a call.”

Chloe graduated from the University of Lincoln in September 2018 with a 1st class honours degree in Law. Her hard work payed off and she was thrilled – not only was this an exceptional accomplishment for her but an inspiration for other young carers across the country to show that they could continue to be a vital part of their support network at home whilst working towards their own goals.

“Graduating in 2018 with a 1st class honours was such an incredible achievement because of the journey I had taken to get there.”

Supporting young carers in education

Whilst juggling her studies and caring role at university, Chloe also started a support programme for other young carers like herself, who may be caring for someone at home but did not yet recognise themselves as carers. She wanted to make sure that all of these students had access to a support network where they could seek help and guidance from members of the wellbeing centre and other carers who were in education.

“Once I identified as a Young Adult Carer, I began to gain confidence in sharing my story and understanding my own coping strategies to overcome the challenges I faced. As I began networking with other carers, I began to learn about the support frameworks in place to support carers in schools, colleges and communities.”

“I began as a Student Carer Champion to develop the framework of support for Students with Caring Responsibilities. The purpose of this project was to raise awareness of informal carers and how to support them during their university studies. In doing so it intended to challenge the stereotype and stigma associated with the term ‘Carer’ and reinforce that students with caring responsibilities can have the same opportunities to succeed with the right support.”

Chloe stood outside the University of Lincoln Student Wellbeing Centre as part of introducing her as a Carer Champion to Care network in Lincolnshire

Chloe’s work, along with staff at the University of Lincoln, helped to create more recognition and support for young people with caring roles who wanted to continue their education. Knowing that there was unique support available for them at university could give young carers the confidence to start a degree and the assurance that they would be recognised as someone who might need extra support along the way. It could also give students who didn’t initially view themselves as carers the confidence to speak up if they were finding things difficult and know where to reach out for more support.

“The Students with Caring Responsibilities project established the support network for Student Carers which included the appointment of designated Student Wellbeing and Careers Advisors and a new partnership between the Student Wellbeing Team and the local Carer Organisation. This project also led to the creation of a Students Union Commitment to Carers, the inclusion of Carers in the University Access Agreement and a carer-related question on the enrolment form.

“To inform students of the support the Wellbeing Team were now able to offer, which includes the provision of Learning Support Plans, the designated Wellbeing Advisor created a Carer Guide which is distributed to all current and prospective students. The Student Wellbeing Team also offer monthly carer cafes for informal discussions and peer support. The Student Wellbeing Team have recently received the Carers Quality Award for their work.”

(L-R) Julie Spence: Head of Student Wellbeing at the University of Lincoln, Julie Goy: Quality Development Lead at Every-one and Rebekah Cavill: Student Wellbeing Advisor who supports Carers (University of Lincoln)

After graduating, Chloe began an internship at the university that involved working on projects for students and graduates that were at Lincoln, including young carers.

“My internship was a project-based role which focused on Student Experience and Engagement. Some of the projects I have been working on include an award scheme pilot recognising students who develop their global competencies; interdepartmental resources focusing on employability and graduate outcomes; research projects and conference delivery on the Postgraduate student identity and coordination of a university-wide outreach event for Young Carers. The last day of my internship is 9 September 2019.”

Caring achievements and personal awards

Chloe has also received recognition from multiple charities and care networks for her contribution to care both at her university and in Lincolnshire.

“I have been a Carer Representative since August 2017 for Carers FIRST, the local Carer Organisation. More recently, I have also been a Carer Representative for the Children’s Society for their Transition into adulthood, Being Young and Young Carers in Schools Project.”

In 2018 Chloe was named Young Adult Carer of the Year at the Pride in Our Carers Awards and she has recently been shortlisted as a finalist for The Care Newcomer Award in the GBCA East Midlands Awards.

“I hope to continue working on my Young Adult Carers projects, particularly focusing on the raising of aspirations, and the transitions into adulthood.”

Caring for carers

Despite her concerns when returning to university, Chloe came to realise the importance of having goals outside of her caring role and felt that they actually helped to improve the relationship between herself and her brother. She is passionate about ensuring other carers have opportunities to reach their goals too.

“For me, having an identity away from caring helped me to be a better sister. It meant that there was something else for us to talk about when we needed a break from talking about the diagnosis, medication or care. It also gave me the breaks I needed to focus on recharging, reconnecting with my personal network and spending time on the things I enjoy.”

Unpaid family carers spend so much time focusing on supporting their loved ones needs that their own wellbeing and goals are often overlooked. All carers should have the chance to look after their own health as well as strive towards their own ambitions outside of caring, but it can be difficult to find the right support. Charities like Carers Trust and Carers UK are dedicated to offering the right advice and information to carers of all ages to help them get the support they need.

Final words of inspiration

By sharing her own successes at university, and her own experiences of caring, Chloe has shown other young carers that they can still achieve their goals with a lot of determination, hard-work and the right support.

“Our dreams and goals are what drive us forward and help us to be the best versions of ourselves. What is important is that we recognise that we all have the opportunity to achieve our goals but we also have our own journey to take to get there. Each journey is filled with crossroads and decisions, hard work and determination but the important thing is to keep moving on that journey.”

Chloe has achieved so much in such a short space of time and has become a positive and passionate voice for other young people who are caring for someone at home. She is now navigating the start of her career and we are excited to see what the future holds for her and her work! Her last few words of advice and encouragement for young carers?

“Celebrate your achievements! It is important to recognise how far you have come and the milestones you have achieved on the way!”

Support and advice for new carers

If you have recently become a carer and are looking for support, you can find plenty of useful advice on Carers Trust and Carers UK. Charity websites, such as Alzheimer’s Society also offer support for carers of people living with specific health conditions.

We have also created a First-Time Family Carer Guide to give people who are taking on an unpaid caring responsibility for the first time important information about what to expect, where to find support and how to care for your loved ones with dignity.

Follow Chloe on Twitter to keep up to date with the work she is doing.

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