Last week I went to talk to a group of young mums in college about going to University as a young parent. I had my speech memorised, and was quite looking forward to passing on my well earned (?) wisdom. Except it didn't quite go as planned. The woman who spoke before me, who came to talk about the support that universities offer, seemed to succeed in scaring the life out of these poor girls. The student grant/loan thing was confusing and no one knew the rules on who would classify as an 'independent student'. It was explained that income support would be stopped for full time students, but things like housing benefit and child tax credits still seemed to be a mystery. The local uni has no childcare facilities (and they didn't know any to recommend either) and there is no support to find 'family friendly' accommodation.  It didn't seem like there was anyone to contact who dealt with these concerns either. When asked about emotional support offered to young parents, a stock answer of support for those with disabilities etc was given. All this seemed to do was highlight the real LACK of support for young parents wanting to go to University. Looking round at the faces of young parents, you could see that any initial interest they had just been sucked of them.

Cue my 'inspirational talk'! Rather than lightheartedly discussing the ups and downs of uni life with a baby I was instead desperately trying to reassure these parents that it really wasn't as bad as they were thinking. Many parensts I know have been lucky enough to find great support at uni, and even those that haven't have often found that they've learnt some key life skills just trying to work it all themselves! I talked about the opportunities that come with getting an education and the ability to make decision to suit them. But I was aware that stepping into the unknown was a scary thing when there was so much to lose.

It made me angry that the woman from uni hadn't done her research. She couldn't give the answers they needed and she didn't seem too bothered about finding out. Luckily I had with me a book recently published by Camilla Chafer (BA, MA), former young parent. The book doesn't have all the answers, but it does have some, and it does tell you where to get more. Most importantly though, it is SUPPORTIVE and ENCOURAGING! There are a variety of case studies from young mums about their experiences at uni, tips on how to juggle studying and childcare, advice for socialising, and contact details of organisations to find out further information on benefits and grants etc. This is the ONLY book of its kind. I cannot recommend it enough.  For anyone who wants to know more get yourself a copy and get educated. According to NUS research a THIRD of students in England and Wales have one or more dependents... That's a lot of bloody questions that are currently being left unanswered....

Student Parents - The Essential Guide

In the meantime if anyone wants an inspiration speaker I'm available! (but please can I go on first?)