Nappies, lullabies and lecture notes

Gabija Gataveckaite

Students who have children are often overlooked by university supports. Credit: Deirdre Kelly

The image of the typical student is associated with heavy books, overdue assignments, spontaneous nights out and little money.

However, not many think of students who also happen to have a child on their hip, who also needs to be fed, changed, bathed and clothed.

While student parents are often overlooked, their struggles are often double that of a regular student- the priority is often not the assignment that is due the next day, but caring for a child.

Childcare is often the biggest worry for any parent, student or not. Earlier this year, Minister for Transport Shane Ross proposed a €1,000 annual payment for grandparents who care for their grandchildren, nicknamed the ‘granny grant’. This saw backlash from the childcare sector, as créches claimed a lack of funding for the childcare sector was proving difficult to sustain themselves.

On the student front, student parents are often forgotten about and universities tend to not prioritise these students. Most Irish universities, including DCU, have créches on campus both for staff and students, but there is little other support for students who have children.

Lauren Byrne had her son, Hyland, when she was 15. Hyland is now four years of age and this motivates his mum to get a third level education.

“Since becoming a mother, I was more determined to go to college than ever, I want to set a good example for my boy and act as a role model for him,” she told The College View.

However, setting this example is easier than it sounds. Byrne admitted to experiencing many struggles in her studies. Currently, she studies social care in the Liberties College but wishes to do psychology instead.

“I find it really hard to find a college with an access route because I didn’t get enough points in my Leaving Cert,” she explained.

Finding the best course isn’t the only barrier to a third level education- childcare poses many challenges for her as a single mother.

“There have been a lot of doubts on my mind recently, I really struggle with childcare as Hyland doesn’t qualify under a scheme because he attends an Irish créche in the morning and a different créche until I get home as the Irish one finishes at 1.15pm.

“On Mondays in college, I leave to collect Hyland and drop him to the other school and then go back to college, which I find really stressful,” she added.

Full-time college courses prove little possibility to look after children while at college. The only solution is childcare; however, this comes at a hefty price.

“This year Hyland didn’t qualify for extra funding, which meant I had to get a job to help pay for childcare because it’s 92 a week just for the evenings in his English créche,” Byrne explains.

“Having to juggle college work and home life is even harder this year compared to last year as I had more support in college last year,” added Byrne.

“The college I am in now doesn’t really offer much support, but my tutor said if I need an extension to let her know, which is helpful,” she added.

When her son was younger, small necessities like breastfeeding proved to be a struggle. “I breastfed Hyland when he was younger and I had a small room at the side of the office that I could use to express milk at lunch, I couldn’t have received enough support when he was younger,” she recalled.

Byrne believes that colleges have room for improvement when it comes to catering for student parents. “They could catch up more with students who have children and make sure they are okay and provide a time where they could work on their assignments in college because it is extremely hard trying to do college work after being away from your children all day,” she explained.

For DCU journalism student Sean Power, becoming a father meant putting his studies on hold. Leaving his wife at home to take of their baby during the day when he was in college was unsustainable, which led to him deferring his final year.

“When my wife got pregnant I originally planned to do final year this year, we moved to Arklow, County Wicklow, over the summer and I planned to commute,” Power told The College View.

“I attended my first day of final year and it was very difficult. I had to travel and [my wife] was isolated at home as she doesn’t know anyone in the area. So at the moment, she’s gone back to work and I’m a full-time daddy,” Power laughed.

He advises young couples to wait off until graduation before planning a family.

“It’s impossible in final year to dedicate yourself when you have a child- and it’s not fair to leave one parent with the child either,” he said. “I would advise waiting until you’re finished and have a job to start a family.”

Even though fatherhood has meant putting his studies on hold, Power has enjoyed the break from college.

“It was tough when we lived in Dublin as I had to juggle college and work and I had no break.  I’ve now had time to get to know my daughter,” he added.

The crèche at DCU provides a ‘professional day-care service for infants and young children of students and staff’, according to the Student Support and Development website. The fees for the 2018/2019 academic year are as follows: €923 per month for ‘babies and wobblers’ and €858 per month for ‘toddlers and Montessori children’.

However, full-time students who wish to use the crèche on a full-time basis may obtain a subsidy from the Student Financial Assistance Fund, which is means tested.

Power admits that childcare costs, once he returns to college, will be one of the main sources of worry for him.

“I’m definitely worried, I’m uncertain when I can go back to finish the degree as I’d say we’ll have to save up for a year before I can go back,” he explained.

“I definitely want to finish the degree though, because I don’t want all my hard work to go to waste.”

Gabija Gataveckaite

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