With the stress of essay deadlines and impending exams mounting, Anna Curran explores what help is at hand for students with the added pressure of raising a family.
While slaving away on essays and assignments, spare a thought for students who have a little more to contend with. Instead of letting off steam in the student bar after a long day in the library, they must combine their academic responsibilities with those of being a parent, while many also work part-time jobs, and presumably, have little time for anything else.
As Manager of Oakmount Crèche, Jennifer Kinsella is in a prime position to observe the issues involved in being a student parent. From the humble beginnings in the 1970s of providing forty places, the crèche has more than doubled in size in the past two years, with 120 places now available. Although the facility is available to both staff and students, students’ families get priority on waiting lists, and currently take about thirty per cent of places.
Kinsella has seen a definite pattern emerge in light of the recession, with the crèche’s waiting list having shrunk recently. “I think we’ve noticed a fall off with regards to just making ends meet really … people can’t get further funding for their research or are finding it difficult with fees.”
The crèche does try to accommodate students, with extended hours during exams and a two month fee-free place freeze during the summer, but can do little about the difficulty of reconciling academic pressure with a need to establish a regular routine for the child. Kinsella has observed that those pressures have increased in light of the recession, commenting that “everybody is finding it a little harder to make things stretch and fit and work.”
One undergraduate UCD mother in her early twenties, who wished to remain anonymous, has returned to UCD this year after taking time out following the birth of her daughter last year. When asked about the support available to student parents in UCD, she is familiar only with the Childcare Assistance Fund, a means-tested subsidy which can cover up to fifty per cent of fees in any crèche.
In Oakmount, this means parents will still have to pay at least €488.50 per month for babies or €460 for children over one year old. The subsidy is not available during the summer, meaning parents must either pay the full fee or mind their children themselves during the break. The combined earnings of both parents must not exceed €39,000 in order to be eligible for the fund. While still waiting to hear from the Childcare Assistance Fund, and with a €20 registration fee and €400 deposit required before a child can even start at the crèche, it’s hardly surprising that financial difficulty is a big concern.
However, she believes that time constraints are the most difficult thing about being a student parent. Academically, parents get no special treatment and must meet deadlines like other students. “Before … you have your evenings to work, your weekends. Now … I come home, give my daughter food, put her to bed, and by the time I get that done there’s some housework … and then you can’t do any reading because you’re just wrecked.”
On the other hand, the academic side of University is just one small aspect. This is Anon’s first year as a student parent and she acknowledges that her life is now completely different than before when she used to attend debates and was on a society committee. She does not view this as a negative thing, however, because she values the small amount of time she gets to spend with her daughter “but now my time with her is so limited anyway so I would like to spend as much [time] as possible with her.”
Although she was always determined to finish her degree, there are times when Anon finds the combination of being a student and a parent overwhelming. She has found her experience with the bureaucracy of the Childcare Fund difficult and their eligibility criteria bizarre. “You have to show that you’re in debt every month [to be eligible] … which I think is irresponsible. If you have a child you don’t live on debts, you look for any way so that you won’t be [spending more than you earn] every month”.
While some assistance is provided by UCD, it is clear that financial worries and time constraints are issues that remain pressing for student parents. Nevertheless, Anon does believe that it is entirely possible to be a student and a parent, albeit with some academic cost. “It is doable … I still write my essays of course, but I can’t read everything for class. I just do the more essential things. Now I just accept that I can’t have A’s anymore.” Whether or not student parents do receive support from UCD, it seems that unfortunately, their studies are bound to suffer as a result of their parental responsibilities.