Caring and education

The demands of caring for a loved one can often mean that carers have to give up things that are important to them.

According to a recent report by Carers UK, one in five carers has given up work to care for a relative or friend, and one-third of carers of working age say they would like to return to work.

However, obstacles such as time management, finding respite care, re-training and gaps in the CV mean that many carers find the process difficult.

Self-belief

Gordon Conochie, who was parliamentary and policy officer for The Princess Royal Trust for Carers (now Carers Trust), said carers often had to give up careers, ambitions and time to themselves to care for someone.

“Carers will often become withdrawn and lose self-belief,” he said. “Life often revolves around, and becomes all about, caring for the other person.”

For some people, the thought of returning to work can be intimidating, but Gordon says learning something new can help a carer’s mental and physical wellbeing, and help them have a life of their own.

Barbara's story

For Barbara Grant from North Yorkshire, studying has given her a sense of achievement.

“It gets the brain working and help keeps it active,” she says.

“When I spend day in, day out, wiping bottoms and doing laundry, studying something helps my self-worth and self-confidence.”

Barbara and her husband have two daughters and a son. Her youngest daughter (seven) and son (14) have severe autism.

Both children require constant supervision and are dependent on their parents for many everyday tasks.

“They both have no sense of danger and our son is hypersensitive to taste. He’ll often go looking for something tasty to eat, which might be bleach, so everything has to be locked away,” says Barbara.

There are two reasons why Barbara decided to study. One was to do something that was just for herself, the other was to plan for the future, when her children were grown up.

Difficult choices

Barbara gave up a job in management when her son was born. At the time, it was too early to diagnose autism but he was, she says, a difficult baby.

Fourteen years later, she realised that when the time came to go back to work, she would have to explain the gap in her CV.

“I wanted to do something with a visible, tangible result to get back into the job market,” she says.

Barbara contacted the Open University through the Carers' Resource centre in Harrogate.

She is now studying for an undergraduate certificate in contemporary science, which is made up of a series of short courses.

There is no time limit to get the required credit points for the qualification. The certificate is awarded once 60 points of study have been completed.

Flexibility

The flexibility, Barbara says, is the best part. Some weeks she will spend more time studying than others, depending on her energy levels and her commitments as secretary of her local branch of the National Autistic Society.

"What I find quite frustrating is that I have passed these courses with good results, and I know I’m capable of doing a full-time course, but I don’t have the time. 

“There is support from the Open University, with flexibility around assignment due dates. If you can’t attend tutorials, they can sometimes be held over the phone,” says Barbara.

Finding the money to pay for a course can also present a problem for carers.

Gordon says carers who are training or earning can lose their Carers Allowance.

“For a lot of people that is a disincentive, and it pushes them into caring only,” he says.

“Carers have three main options. They can either pay for it themselves, be funded by a charity, or there may be some money available through local authorities.”

Confidence booster

Many carers’ centres offer free or subsidised training programmes, and there are other free courses and various funding options available through learning institutions and local authorities.

Another problem Barbara faces is finding suitable respite care for her son, who she says can be very difficult and requires a highly experienced carer.

However, despite the difficulties, Barbara’s advice to other carers considering studying is to go for it.

“You will be surprised. I didn’t have a lot of confidence. I didn’t feel like a high achiever,” she says. “But it’s been a real confidence booster. If carers are asking themselves, ‘Have I got the time?’, I’d say just do it. It’s a huge boost.”

For more about Barbara's story, watch the video below, where she talks about how she's combined getting an education with caring for her children.

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