Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Why is identifying estranged young people in HE crucial?

There are hundreds of thousands of young people who have a difficult and unsupportive relationship with their family in the UK. For many, family problems subside as children grow to become independent adults, and make their way to university. But for those students with family problems which grow and develop into wider rifts, the journey through school and into higher education is not always a smooth transition.

Estranged young people have no contact, support, and/or approval from their family. Our research shows there are three common causes of family estrangements, which can leave young people with no choice but to go it alone.

Families may experience mismatched values and beliefs between generations, where the choices a young person makes do not fit with the ridged expectations or traditions of the family unit. A common cause is persistent abuse, and particularly emotional abuse, where a young person does not receive the emotional validation, positivity, love, and care we typically associate with a functional parent/child relationship. Changes following divorce and remarriage play a large part in estrangement, and young adults can find themselves unwanted or unaccepted in a new family form, with the addition of one or more new family members. Importantly, our research shows such family issues often go unidentified by social services, meaning estranged young people lack the statutory visibility of care leavers, who have been removed from family and placed in residential or foster care. These young adults have taken the difficult step of removing themselves.

Many of these young people are studying in our schools and colleges and are grappling to find a place in our communities. A significant number of people reading this blog will have worked with such young people, who have been held back, hindered, and thrown off track by their lack of family capital. It may be that you, as professionals, have seen the barriers that independent young people, studying without family support, will come up against.  

How does this present itself? 

Visibility has been one of the most fundamental issues for both students and professionals in this area. As there is no formal divorce or removal process in place to emancipate young people from their families, it is hard for students to be given the necessary support, or feel confident in coming forward to access it.

Our research has shown that shame and stigma a
round self-removal from family acts stop young people from trusting that they can find support, and not judgement. Furthermore, these young people and their unique needs do not fit neatly into pre-existing support policies. For example, estranged students need support or flexibility with finding a lump sum deposit for halls of residence prior to entry, yet have little statutory status to give credence to their needs.

Furthermore, community and belonging is important for young people, who may feel they do not matter to anyone. If the first interaction a student experiences with a higher education provider is with an inflexible policy, defended to the hilt, barriers and frustrations are built. Our research and work in this sector has indicated that understanding staff, who are willing to advocate and challenge rigid policies, are crucial in the journey into higher education for estranged young people. Developing relationships with student support services early on, pre-entry, will maintain aspirations that the student community can accommodate their needs.  

We are therefore really pleased to have been working with UCAS to help improve visibility for estranged students

It is our intention at Stand Alone to ensure such students become more visible, and can be brought into the support networks of higher education providers sooner rather than later.

Stand Alone is a charity supporting people of all ages who are estranged from their family, or a key family member. We have a strategic focus on estranged young people between the ages of 18 – 25, who are entering higher education.

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