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
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.
|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.
|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.
- 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.
American Association of Caregiving Youth
- The AACY helps to increase awareness and provide support for young caregivers and their families. It connects youth with the health care, education and community resources they need to be successful as students and as caregivers.
Family Caregiver Alliance
- oIn addition to providing a number of resources, FCA provides support groups for both patients and caregivers. Online and local community gatherings are available for caregivers of specific illnesses.
Next Step in Care
- This organization is designed to give caregivers the support they need to provide care for chronically or seriously ill patients. It provides a path for health care providers to work closely with the caregivers, giving young caregivers another level of support to ensure their family members are getting the best available healthcare.
Caregiver Action Network
- CAN helps young caregivers navigate through the medications, medical visits and other confusing aspects of caring for someone with an illness or disability. It has specific resources for the unique challenges that caregivers for patients with common illnesses, like cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, might face..
Family Caregiver Alliance
- This national nonprofit provides a voice for caregivers and offers support, information and tools for all caregivers. In addition, FCA also has a number of education opportunities for caregivers of those with a wide range of illnesses or disabilities.
Adult Day Care
- Adult day care locations provide a safe space for adults in need of ongoing care so that the youth caregiver can go to school or work. Its website offers a national directory of more than 4,500 locations.
- Religious Institutions
- Young caregivers can turn to their religious leaders for assistance in finding the support and resources they need. Often religious center staff and volunteers will step up to provide food, rides and emotional support to both the caregiver or the person in need of care.
- Community Centers
- Community centers offer recreational programs for both youth and adults, often providing respite programs for the chronically ill or disabled. In addition, some community centers will also provide additional support services funded by the state or local community.
Lotsa Helping Hands
- oWhile Lotsa Helping Hands doesn’t directly provide financial help, it does offer assistance with tasks that the caregiver might otherwise have to hire out, such as meal delivery and rides.
Family Caregiver Alliance
- oThis organization helps to develop policies and programs for caregivers across the country by uniting research, public policy and public services. Their work brings legal attention to caregivers and youth caregivers through their policy development.
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.
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.
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. .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.