Youth Caregivers College Support Resources, scholarships and expert advice to succeed in school while caregiving

Meet the Experts

Dr. Ruxandra LeMay Read bio

Written by…

Abby Herman Read bio

More and more, young adults are taking on the responsibility of providing for the health and safety of their family members who can’t otherwise take care of themselves due to illnesses, injuries or disabilities. This causes unique challenges for the young caretakers, including financial and time constraints that prevent them from furthering their educations. This guide offers some solutions to support these young adults so that they succeed in two things they’re passionate about: getting an education and caring for family members.

A Day in the Life of a Student Caregiver

June is a student at the local community college, living with her father who has chronic kidney disease, her younger siblings and her grandmother. With her grandmother unable to take care of June’s father and her siblings still in middle school, the caretaking responsibilities fall on June. Between classes and homework, she makes sure her siblings are keeping up with schoolwork and her father makes it to his dialysis appointments three times a week.

Time Task
5:30 a.m. June is up early to prepare breakfast and lunches for her family members with her grandmother’s help.
6:00 a.m. June wakes up her siblings and prompts them to get ready for school.
7:00 a.m. June leaves for her first classes of the day after dropping her siblings off at the bus stop.
9:30 a.m. June heads home to take her father to doctor’s appointments, including his dialysis appointments.
12 p.m. After dropping her father back at home, June stops by the school library to study and work on homework before her next classes.
3:30 p.m. June picks up her siblings from school and heads home for more homework and study time.
6:00 p.m. With help from her grandmother or siblings, June prepares dinner for the family.
7:30 p.m. June helps her father clean up and ensures that her siblings are winding down for the night.
8:30 p.m. With her siblings tucked into bed, June settles down to finish up her homework.
10:30 p.m. Her family and school responsibilities done, June heads to bed.

Stefan is a 16-year-old high school sophomore, dedicated to finishing his schooling so he can make a better life for himself and his family. He lives with his grandmother and a younger brother who is blind. His grandmother is no longer able to work, so the responsibility falls on Stefan to earn wages to help support his family.

Time Task
6 a.m. Stefan is up early to help his brother get dressed and fed for school.
6:45 a.m. Stefan usually spends some time studying and finishing the previous night’s homework.
7:30 a.m. After dropping his brother off at his charter school, Stefan heads to school.
3 p.m. Stefan picks his brother up from school and drops him off at home, in the care of his grandmother. Once a month, Stefan also travels with his grandmother and brother to a doctor’s appointment where he translates for his grandmother.
4:00 p.m. Arriving to his after-school job early, Stefan spends about 30 minutes working on homework before starting his shift.
7:00 p.m. During his 20-minute break, Stefan studies and calls home to check on his brother and grandmother. Three times a month he stops by the pharmacy to pick up medications for his grandmother.
10:00 p.m. Stefan arrives home from work, helps his brother get to bed and starts in on his homework again.
11:45 p.m. Stefan is finally able to turn in for the night.

Essential Resources for Youth Caregivers

Young adult and teen caregivers don’t have to go at it alone. There are numerous resources available for them, giving them the support they need to care for their family members while still attending and having success in school.

  • Guidance Counselor or School Counselor
    • Guidance and school counselors are trained to identify students’ needs and provide the resources and support they need to keep up in class. Often students need to be the first to reach out, which can be a challenge for a young caregiver with limited time.
  • School Resource Officer
    • Young caregivers may find themselves in legal trouble if they have excessive unexcused tardies or absences. Talking to a school resource officer is a good first step in ensuring their parents or guardians don’t receive notice from the courts. The SROs can help students navigate through the legal loopholes and even assist in setting up a system for success.
  • Friends
    • Though many young caregivers may face strained friendships due to lack of time, they can rely on their network of friends for emotional and academic support. When they miss class to care for a family member, friends can collect homework and textbooks for them so they don’t return to school further behind.

Common Challenges for Young Caregivers

Young caregivers are resilient and have grit, but they also face a number of challenges they have to overcome. It’s not easy, and they lean on resources and support from social services and school in order to get by.

Taking care of others first usually means that students are running late or even sleeping through their alarms. If they’re minors, that means that their parents or guardians must excuse the absence. Depending on the family dynamics, this may not always happen.

College Scholarships for Youth Caregivers

Students who care for family members with chronic illnesses or disabilities are an exceptional group of young adults with various talents and challenges. They often don’t fit into the traditional student mold because they balance the responsibilities of school, work and caring for someone with extensive needs. Thankfully there are numerous scholarship options available to them to help reduce some of the financial burden so they can focus on caring for themselves and their loved ones while succeeding in college and beyond.

  • National Multiple Sclerosis Society Scholarship Support

    • Amount: Varies
    • The National Multiple Sclerosis Society supports students who are affected by MS and are pursuing a college education. There are several scholarships available to cover college costs such as tuition, books, supplies and living expenses.
  • Matthews and Swift Educational Trust Scholarships

    • Amount: Varies
    • This scholarship is available for children of military veterans who were injured in combat and, as a result, have a permanent and total disability. Parents must be members in good standing of Knights of Columbus.
  • PreJax Foundation Scholarship for Kids of MS

    • Amount: $1,000
    • Applicants of this scholarship have been diagnosed with MS or have a parent with MS. They are awarded based on academic excellence, school activities, leadership and community service.
  • Roadway Worker Memorial Scholarship

    • Amount: $6,000
    • Awarded annually, this scholarship offers financial assistance for college students whose parents were permanently disabled of killed in work zone accidents. The scholarship may be applied to any post-secondary school or institution that requires a high school diploma or GED for admission.
  • Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Scholarship

    • Amount: $4,000
    • Applicants for this scholarship should have battled cancer during their lives—either themselves or a parent, sibling, immediate family member or close friend. Students must be enrolled in a full-time college or junior college program and be in good academic standing.
  • Leukemia & Lymphoma Law School Scholarship

    • Amount: $1,000
    • Law students whose lives have been impacted by leukemia or lymphoma may apply for this scholarship to help cover tuition. Applicants can be current or incoming law students and must show a cumulative grade point average of 3.0.
  • UCB Family Epilepsy Scholarship

    • Amount: $5,000 and $10,000
    • Up to 30 scholarships are awarded to applicants who are living with epilepsy, have a family member with epilepsy or who care for a person with epilepsy. Applicants should show achievement and a strong record or participating in extra-curricular activities.
  • Victoria Ovis Memorial Scholarship

    • Amount: Varies
    • Awarded annually to the child of a law enforcement officer or firefighter who was killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Recipients must reside and attend school in New York State or the New York metro area.

A Psychologist’s Advice for Young Caregivers

Bio: Dr. Ruxandra LeMay is a private practice psychologist in Litchfield Park, Arizona with experience in family therapy, ADHD, stress and anxiety management, and executive coaching. Click here to check out her free resources on effective communication, emotional unavailability, intimacy, and anxiety management or join her at www.ruxandralemay.com for monthly blogs posts.

What can youth caregivers do to make the most of their time (both for their families and for their schoolwork)?

I highly recommend looking for resources that blend time management, organization, prioritization and compartmentalization. The first three come in handy in learning what tasks or jobs should be done first, how much time to give to each task, and categorize everything in “high importance,” “average” and “low.” Not everything is of high importance. The last skill, compartmentalization, comes in handy when worry and concern over things keep them from fully engaging in the task that they are working on. Learning how to “box up” distracting feelings and thoughts will help them move through the list and get stuff done successfully.

Are there specific resources available to offer support for this unique population?

The American Association of Caregiving Youth is a more formal resource. But any resources of time management, stress management and self-care – and there are plenty out there – are foundational elements and are good for a lifetime and highly recommended especially in these circumstances.

How can these unique youth maintain social norms while taking on so much responsibility?

First really identifying what social norms are healthy, and which ones are not, is huge nowadays. And that applies to all young people. Wasting time on Facebook is one of today’s social norm, but it doesn’t mean it’s healthy or productive. FOMO (fear of missing out) is a real, anxiety producing concern but it’s definitely a waste of good brain power. However, real, social connection with good friends, going to the movies or concerts, hanging out, connecting over coffee are a must.

“Planning for social time, including it in the schedule just like anything else, and learning how to not feel guilty about it are important.”

What cautions do you have for youth caregivers as they fill their schedules with caretaking and schoolwork?

At a young age and without emotional coaching and support, they are at risk of not recognizing the signs of taking on too much. Not knowing how to say no in an empathic way and to put boundaries around to protect themselves, their bodies and brains can become completely overwhelmed. These are high risk situations for clinical exhaustion, fatigue, dehydration or autoimmune disorders, or on the mental side: anxiety, depression and substance abuse. One of my favorite quotes for people that take the role of caregivers is:

“The risk of putting everyone else first is that you teach them you come second.”

“It’s important especially for young people to learn that although empathy and caring for other people are great qualities to have, so are self-care and self-protection and putting yourself first once in a while.”

What can school counselors or therapists do to support these youth?

Be great listeners! Help them build their energy levels and emotional tanks, by pointing out their strengths and qualities. But also help them build self-awareness, identify physical and mental symptoms of stress and burn out, and help them find the best healthy coping activities for them. Teach them the importance of self-care! You can’t pour from an empty cup so in order to take care of others, they have to take care and nurture themselves first.