Student Carers – using social media to interact with hard to reach student groups

James Giddings and Emily Marsh – Sheffield Hallam University


Our submission will cover the work we’re doing with hard to reach groups, focusing specifically on using social media as a platform to engage and interact with carers who traditionally find it difficult interacting with our service and with other students due to their caring responsibilities.

Research (NUS, 2013) (Becker & Sempick, 2014) suggests that student carers face elevated financial hardship, decreased wellbeing and that their support needs are often misunderstood or ignored by their institutions, leading to them being more likely to drop out of College / University than students without caring responsibilities. The importance of social transition to retention and success is well documented (Thomas, 2002) (Kantanis, 2000) and the inability to meet and socialise with other students can have a profound effect on a student’s happiness and enjoyment of the university experience.

Looking to the value that social media has a tool to foster social connections (Hall & Davison, 2007) (Kelly, Young & Kelsey, 2014) we have used Facebook as a platform for students with similar life experiences to connect. They can post to the group to share items of interest, they can organise times when they can all meet together outside of their busy schedules, and we can interact with the students in the group to ask them what they want from our service. The latter is important to the work we do as previously when we tried to organise events and activities for students with caring responsibilities we would get low attendance due to their complex schedules. We were guessing as a service when would be good for our students instead of being student led.

By being more student led though the use of social media we can deliver support to more students, and the kind of support our students ask for, whether that might be delivered in person or through digital platforms. Our submission will also make reference to the Facebook group ‘Care Leavers Rock’ created by Carrie Wilson at the Care Leavers Association. Carrie’s group has become very successful and learning from her project has helped inform our work. Using social media in this way helps to make the pressures of HE easier on our students through building a support network, keeping them informed about key issues and giving them a platform to be heard.


student carers social media hard to reach Facebook engage chat

Relation to the theme

reaching and engaging different groups of learners