During our time as UEA students, many of us are fortunate enough to have a family support network that acts as a safety net in times of difficulty. But what happens if you don't have contact with your family?
Estrangement from parents or other key family members is something that students often deal with in silence. It's not a well-known term and there is often an assumption that everyone has a close family network. I want to break the stigma around estrangement to open up conversations about the difficulties that it can create and look at how the University can put in place more support for those students dealing with it.
One of the biggest issues for estranged students is a lack of financial support. While many students head home for the summer, estranged students and care leavers may not have this option so have to pay out extra in living and accommodation costs. Due to issues around student finance, estranged students also face additional difficulties – they may have to work multiple jobs for money and if the loan comes in late there may be no-one to tide them over financially. Estrangement can also cause students to feel isolated, which can have a detrimental affect on wellbeing and academic engagement.
As yet, UEA doesn't offer specific support for estranged students – just the generic emotional and financial support offered by SSS. We’d like the University to make a number of changes to better support these students to make sure that they can achieve their potential at University. First, we'd like the Vice Chancellor to sign the 'Stand Alone' pledge, raising awareness of estrangement and signalling an intention to support these students. We'd also like the University to understand who these students are and increase provision for SSS so that they can provide a targeted package of support. This could include looking at 52-week contracts for halls and exploring the examples of other universities who have introduced graduation support, help with moving, and bursaries.
If estrangement is something that you're dealing with, the charity Stand Alone specialise in supporting estranged people and have a section of resources for students on their website. You can also come and talk to Advice(su) who can direct you to financial, academic or wellbeing support.