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The Stand Alone Pledge: Helping UK universities to support estranged students

The Stand Alone Charity was founded by Becca Bland in 2013, to provide help and support to adults who are estranged from their family, or who have lost contact with a key family member. The charity’s research shows that 1 in 5 families in the UK are affected by estrangement, with over 5 million people having decided to cut contact with at least one family member. Some common causes of estrangement include clashing personalities, values and beliefs; emotional abuse; poor communication and significant or traumatic life events – but the reasons are innumerable and diverse, as the Estranged Stories site (where those dealing with estrangement can connect with others) shows.

Estrangement can happen at any time in life but often takes place in early adulthood (across the 19-34 age group), perhaps as a sense of responsibility towards a child begins to fade, or as an individual feels that they are in some sort of position to remove themselves from a negative situation. As a result, these individuals may be left in an especially vulnerable position as they try to negotiate the demands of adult life, without the emotional or financial safety net that close familial bonds can provide. This issue is often compounded for those attending university, with its associated financial and emotional pressures. Indeed, upon launching, Stand Alone were aware of increasing numbers of people making contact who were struggling to find support during their university studies – a common problem being evidencing an estrangement situation to Student Finance.

On Stand Alone's YouTube channel, you can listen to Osob talk about life as a student without family support

Over the last two years, Becca Bland has been working with the Student Loans Company in her capacity at Stand Alone. This has resulted in an increased level of awareness within the SLC of the consequences and barriers of estrangement to HE applicants and HE students. The SLC has also made significant changes to the process of evidencing estrangement, offering a number of clear, accessible ways for a student to demonstrate that they have had no contact with their parents for at least 12 months.

In 2015, Stand Alone began working on a strategy to extend the awareness and understanding of estranged students and their needs, across the HE sector. This included involving HEIs in developing their own support services for students without family support. In the same year, Stand Alone released the results of their Hidden Voices report, aimed at achieving a better understanding of the impact of living with family estrangement; it highlighted the difficulties associated with reaching out, as 1 in 4 participants who had spoken to a GP found them to be ‘not at all helpful’ and 68% felt that there was a social stigma attached to being estranged from one’s family.

In October 2016, the Stand Alone Pledge for UK universities was launched, with support from groups including OFFA, AMOSSHE, NUS and the Unite Foundation. Susan Mueller – Project Director at Stand Alone – explains what this represents:

"The Pledge is a sign of commitment. It is a message both to existing students and to those applying to university, that there is an understanding of the issues affecting those without a family network and that the university can offer them support into and through university."

The initiative also offers training and phone support to HEIs to help identify areas that require development, and encourages partnership-working across departments and between colleagues to improve the support available in the four areas of the Pledge: Outreach and Transition; Accommodation; Finance; and Mental Health and Wellbeing. Already, the charity are observing some positive changes taking place at the 18 UK universities that have signed up to the Stand Alone Pledge so far, as Susan Mueller explains:

“Most importantly, universities are developing a greater awareness and understanding of estrangement, in particular through engaging with and listening to their own estranged students who are willing to share their experiences. Universities are identifying gaps in their support provision and are putting in place strategies and processes to offer better support, by working with Stand Alone and by collaborating and learning from each other through exchanging best practice.”

For more information on Stand Alone, see and the twitter feeds @StandAloneHE and @UKStandAlone

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