College rewarded for its support of young carers

A college with campuses across the south Wales valleys has received an award in recognition of the unrivalled support it offers to young carers.

Coleg y Cymoedd, which has locations in Ystrad Mynach, Aberdare, Rhondda and Nantgarw, has been awarded the ‘Gold Young Carers College’ award from Rhondda Cynon Taf Young Carers’ Service, which celebrates further education colleges that are taking active steps to support learners with caring responsibilities.

The gold award – the highest possible accolade an education provider can achieve in the region – recognises the steps that Coleg y Cymoedd has taken to ensure that its young and young adult carers (18-24 year olds) are fully supported in order for them to fulfil their potential.

The news comes just one year after the college received its silver accreditation and follows a string of other awards, including a Carers Federation Quality Standard in Carer Support award, demonstrating its ongoing commitment to strengthening the  resources it has available for young carers studying at its campuses.

According to the latest available figures, there are currently over 2,500 young carers in Rhondda Cynon Taf. These young people help to look after a relative, friend or neighbour who wouldn’t otherwise be able to manage alone due to illness, age or disability.

As a result of having to juggle a caring role with school or college work, these carers are five times more likely to drop out of education than other learners as they struggle to cope with the additional pressures of studying on top of their care responsibilities.

Designed by Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Young Carers’ Service, the Young Carers College and Schools award schemes have been developed to tackle this problem and help learners continue their education and training by ensuring that academic staff are aware of how to identify young and young adult carers, understand the difficulties they face and implement policies and support systems that will assist them.

The award consists of three levels; Bronze, Silver and Gold, with each level consisting of a set of standards which progressively increase the support and guidance that young carers are offered in their education.

Councillor Christina Leyshon, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, said: “I am delighted to see Coleg y Cymoedd being awarded the Gold Award in recognition of the support they provide to our Young Carers. The dedication and commitment shown by Young Carers in providing essential care to their loved ones is truly remarkable and a huge responsibility.

“However, this can have an impact on them academically, socially and emotionally, and it is absolutely vital that organisations not only work to identify Young Carers, but also implement systems to provide the support they need to continue with their studies and provide opportunities for respite.

“I would like to thank and congratulate all involved at Coleg y Cymoedd for their fantastic work in continuing their efforts to achieve the Gold Award, and I am sure that they will continue to make a positive difference to the lives of Young Carers attending the college.”

The latest 2020-21 figures show that around a fifth of all young carers referred to RCT’s Young Carers’ Service come from schools and colleges, highlighting the number of young people trying to balance studies and care duties. In the last year alone, the service has received 86 referrals.

Coleg y Cymoedd has implemented a number of measures over the last three years to help young people with caring roles at the college. As well as offering learners flexible learning hours, free meals and extra support throughout their college journey,  learners, who are often the primary carer for individuals suffering from serious illness, are also provided with access to counselling and are usually taken on an annual residential trip to give them a break from their responsibilities at home.

Following the restrictions arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, the college has adapted to implement a number of additional measures to ensure young carers are supported while they are at home. Whereas young carers would usually receive free breakfast and lunch on campus, Coleg y Cymoedd is providing them with financial aid to cover these meals.

The college has set up a digital support group and signed up to mental health support platform, Platfform, to help learners with their wellbeing. It has also arranged regular virtual check-ins, provided learners with laptops and WIFI dongles to ensure they have access to the internet from home, and is in the process of sending out care packages designed to uplift spirits.

Karen Phillips, Principal at Coleg y Cymoedd said: “Young carers have a huge amount of responsibility on their shoulders at home, so it’s always been our mission to do all we can to help make their education experience as smooth as possible.

“As a result of the lockdown, many young carers will have lost the support and respite that they would normally receive and some young people, who may not have been carers before, will have found themselves in caring positions, now supporting family members who have become ill, or helping parents with childcare as schools have been closed.

“We have worked hard to ensure we have extra support measures in place during this time for these learners and that our staff are equipped to recognise the signs that a learner may be a young carer, so that they can signpost them to appropriate help. We’re incredibly proud to be receiving the gold award – it is a culmination of years of hard work and commitment to continually increasing awareness for young carers and supporting them throughout their time with us.”