Resources, scholarships and expert advice to succeed in school while caregiving
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
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.
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.
Challenge #1: Excessive tardiness
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.
Challenge #2: Missing classes
Young caregivers may miss classes when important family responsibilities take precedence, like translating at a doctor’s appointment or providing transportation for a family member. Other students miss school because there’s no one else available to care for an ill or disabled family member during the day. If the absences are excessive, these students or their guardians face disciplinary action from the school.
Challenge #3: Difficulty in school
If they frequently miss class or don’t have time to finish homework, grades might suffer for young caregivers. They may not have time for academic support before or after school, so they continue to struggle on their own. This leads to poor grades, academic probation and challenges maintaining scholarships. .
Challenge #4: Strained friendships
Young, busy caregivers have little time for themselves, let alone fostering healthy friendships. And at this age, having friendsships with like-minded peers is an important part of their growth and development. Young caregivers can often feel lonely and left out and the friends they do have may voice their concern that there’s no time for them.
Challenge #5: Burnout
Being responsible for others on a regular basis is stressful, especially when you’re young and want to do well in school. Add a job or other responsibilities to the mix, and students often struggle to get to school and work on time and to finish their homework adequately. This can lead to burnout when the student doesn’t have the support and resources he or she needs.
Challenge #6: Little time for self-care
Self-care is a necessary part of life, and most young adults have learned how to navigate it. But when young caregivers are focused on all the items on their to-do lists, they often put self-care last. This can lead to a host of other problems, such as health issues, declining grades and burnout.
Challenge #7: Anxiety
Fears of losing their family members, dread over missed classes or homework assignments, and an ongoing sense of overwhelm can contribute to young caregivers feeling anxiety. If left untreated, which it often does, this anxiety can interfere with regular daily activities and even cause physical symptoms.
Challenge #8: Loss of childhood and young adulthood
Teens and young adults have many rites of passage that young caregivers may miss out on, including club activities at school, participating in sports, attending school dances and even dating. The caregiver is thrown into a position of great responsibility early in life and can feel resentment toward the person or situation that caused it.
Challenge #9: Legal restrictions for medical care
If not acting as an official legal guardian, young caregivers often can’t make medical decisions for those in their care, even when they are the primary caregiver. This can cause many challenges for both the caregiver and his or her family member in need—as well as for the social services they’re seeking out.
Challenge #10: Feelings of abandonment
All children and young adults want and need to feel safe and taken care of. But when they’re acting as the adult in their family situation, they can feel abandoned and lost, unsure of who to turn to for help.
Challenge #11: Financial strain
Caring for family members with disabilities, illnesses and injuries is not cheap, and social services don’t always cover all the costs. Young caregivers often get jobs, as time allows, to help their family through difficult financial times. This added responsibility adds to the caregivers’ schedule and stress, further perpetuating the cycle of burnout.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Millie Brother Scholarship for Hearing Children of Deaf Adults
This scholarship requires applicants to write an essay about how their experience with parents who are deaf has shaped their lives and goals. Two scholarships are awarded annually.
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.
Alabama Scholarships for Dependents of Blind Parents
Alabama residents who come from a household where the head of household is blind are eligible for this need-based scholarship.
Victoria Ovis Memorial Scholarship
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.