Young carers are young people under 18 who help to look after someone in their family or a friend who is ill, disabled, or misuses drugs or alcohol.
Tye is 13 and helps care for his seven year old brother, who has Asperger's Syndrome. “I care for my brother to give my mum a break. I'd like to see my friends more, but I can't. I find it hard to get the quiet time to do my homework.”
Jessica, age 13 is a young carer, and she cares for her father who has a physical disability. “I help my dad. When he drops things, I pick them up. His left hand went numb. When he's in bed, his legs go out like a frog, then he can't move, and he's got loads of tablets.”
Kate is 17 years old and cares for her mother, 15 year old sister, and four year old brother. “As a result of my own health and the pressure on me at home, I dropped out of college a little while ago. I felt very isolated, having to cope with everything on my own, with little support.”
There are an estimated 700,000 young carers in the UK. The average age of a carer is just 12 years old, 8% of secondary pupils are carers, and a third of young carers are giving 11 to 20 hours of care each week. Young carers are performing all sorts of tasks around the home, and particularly, offering their parents emotional support.
Tasks include cooking, shopping, getting up, giving medicine, caring for siblings, helping with communication or translation, dressing, and some older children paying bills. Most young carers are looking after their mother, around a quarter care for siblings, 20% care for their father and a few taking care of a grandparent. Most young carers have had no statutory assessment of their needs and 64% of young carers have no support at all. Those young carers who are receiving support, get that support either at school or through young carers groups.
For young carers, there are many vulnerabilities when compared to young people who are not carers. They are four times more likely to be bullied. Twice as likely to be late for school. Twice as likely to have difficulty making friends and twice as many report being angry than young people who are not carers. Nearly half of all young carers haven't told their school about the care work that they do. Schools need to make sure they make it easier to share by raising awareness and offering specific support that young people can see a benefit in.
Indicators of being a young carer might include being regularly late or absent, appearing tired, withdrawn, or being anxious about someone at home. In their schoolwork, they might find it hard to focus. Their progress might be not as good as you'd expect, and they might feel isolated from their friends and others, perhaps because they can't see them as regularly as they'd like or can’t take part in after school activities.
The Carers Trust have prepared a document called ‘Know Your Rights’ setting out the rights of young carers which include that young people shouldn't be doing the caring role if:
- it makes them feel worried, sad, or lonely
- means they miss out on time with friends
- makes their health worse
- means they are doing worse at school or college
- mtops them getting or keeping a job, or
- stops them achieving their goals for the future
Schools can help young carers by following these ten steps:
- Gain an understanding of the needs of young carers.
- Review school provision.
- Secure commitment of school leaders.
- Introduce a young carer's school lead.
- Refer to young carers in school documents.
- Set up systems to identify, assess, and support.
- Raise awareness of school staff about young carers.
- Raise the awareness of pupils and families about young carers.
- Identify, assess, and support young carers and their families.
- Share good practise with others.
The Young Carers Trust are calling on all schools in England that are working to identify and support young carers, to showcase their commitment to young carers by adding their school to the Young Carers in Schools Map. This map also shows the success of schools in the Young Carers in Schools Award System. The Young Carers Award looks at five different area:
- Understand Assigned members of staff with responsibility for understanding and addressing young carers' needs.
- Inform Awareness is raised by sharing knowledge about the disability, illness, and young carers throughout the school.
- Identify Young carers are being identified within the school.
- Listen Young carers are listened to, consulted with, and given time and space to talk.
- Support Young carers are supported within the school and signposted to services outside the school.