Stand Alone published a new report last week, entitled 'New Starts'. The research and report profiles young people who are estranged from their family, studying in Higher Education without the emotional or financial backing of a family network.
It's not easy to be young and to be vulnerable in this society or indeed to make the difficult choice of leaving the comparative safety net of a dysfunctional family network. Whilst writing this report, I re-visited some of the challenges that young people face when walking away from a dysfunctional past. The most potent memory for me was that of the homelessness and sofa surfing that I faced in periods between contracts or whilst saving for a deposit.
I remembered how frightening and shameful the idea of being homeless was; the sheer embarrassment of asking if I could stay on a friend's sofa again; wondering which friend to ask, and when would be the right time; the pressure of deciding how much of my situation to tell them; the feeling that I wasn't truly welcome when I arrived; the discomfort of their family's sympathetic warmth and how strangely jealous I also felt of their unity at the same time. I remember panicking about how much or what to tell my friend's mum, dad, brother, family friend; feeling indebted to them but also fearful that they were thinking I had done the wrong thing, and that I should try and reconcile.
This cocktail of emotions was much better than the physically vulnerability of sleeping in hostels, and not having a roof. But the emotional vulnerability was sometimes crippling, and the constant insecurity that I lived with was a heavy mental burden. I felt nervous about the future, I was panicking about money on a daily basis, and deep down feared that one day my friends wouldn't be there just as my parents weren't. So I prepared myself for it, by quietly limiting my trust in them.
Furthermore, I didn't have the things that society assumes all young people will have access to, which invariably family provide. Namely a guarantor or lump sum deposits. More often than not, I lived with private landlords, without any contract, who could have thrown me out at any time. Needless to say, that possibility and my lack of rights often kept me awake at night. The success of my life, and keeping my head above water, was all on me.
Estrangement and disownment is not straightforward. Research shows emotional abuse, divorce and mismatched expectations about family roles are the key causes of family alienation in young people. More specifically, issues connected to honour based violence, forced marriage and family rejection of LGBTQI+ students are common. Young people most often make the break at 16-19 years old. Only around 40% of students have been in contact with social services, and 60% have removed themselves without any professional intervention.
The evidence from our new report shows that 14% of estranged young people have considered officially registering homeless during their time in higher education, representing around 1,280 students across the country in total. These numbers are, in reality, a tiny fraction of the whole student population. However thousands upon thousands more are likely accepting the kindness of friends and partners, and sleeping on sofas, carpets and in spare bedrooms. Which is a good thing on a level, but we must not forget that it is still a very hard thing at the same time.
Read our report here: http://bit.ly/1hU65eQ