Young carers

Young carers are children who are caring for a parent, sibling or other relative/person. Young carers may be particularly vulnerable as they may not be receiving the level or quality of parenting that would normally be expected due to the limited capacities of their own carer; and may be spending a considerable period of their time caring leaving limited time/energy for other activities.


Overview

The 2001 Census indicated there are 175,000 children and young people under 18 in the UK providing some care to family, friends or neighbours. Across England, 16 per cent (22,000 children and young people) are reported to be caring for between 20 and 50 or more hours per week [1]

Young carers are children who are caring for a parent, sibling or other relative/person. They may be providing care for a variety of reasons including due to:

  • Mental illness
  • Disability
  • Ill health/medical conditions
  • Alcohol or substance misuse

Young carers may be particularly vulnerable as they:

  • May not be receiving the level or quality of parenting that would normally be expected due to the limited capacities of their own carer
  • May be spending a considerable period of their time caring, leaving limited time/energy for other activities.

Young carers may face both practical difficulties in their daily lives, as well as experiencing emotional strain due to the pressure they are under. This can include:

  • Worrying about gaps in support for the person whom they are caring for or due to their own lack of skills/experience (real or perceived) to cope with the presenting situation
  • Young carers not having the support they need from wider family, friends
  • Lack of support from professionals (e.g. teacher, GP) due to them being unaware/not fully aware of what the young person is having to manage or the impact upon them
  • Inability to “take a break” from time consuming or routine task e.g. cooking, shopping, feeding, bathing
  • Inability to take place in leisure activities/spend adequate time with friends

Many young carers are proud of the contribution they can make and can develop useful skills and experiences through their caring role. However, research has shown that extensive or inappropriate caring expectations on young people can lead to:

  • Missing school/poor educational achievement. Research indicates that as many as 27 per cent of young carers of secondary school age are experiencing problems in attending and achieving at school. For young carers in families affected by substance misuse, the problems are particularly acute, with 40 per cent experiencing educational difficulties [2]
  • Negative impact on emotional and physical well-being [3]
  • Increased risk of social isolation/bullying [4]

It is crucial that a comprehensive assessment is carried out and that the young carer obtains appropriate coordinated multi agency support. This should include, where appropriate, practical and domestic support.

Guidance leaflets for health and school services are available from www.youngcarer.com
This organisation also has information regarding support services available. Direct online support is also available for young carers themselves at  www.youngcarers.net

[1] See Chapter 6 of Carers at the heart of 21st century families and communities, 2007
[2] See Chapter 6 of Carers at the heart of 21st century families and communities, 2007
[3] Dearden and Baker, Young Carers in the UK, 2004
[4] Becker and Becker, Young Adults in the UK, 2008