Young carers

Young Carers are not a homogeneous group and the caring role will be different dependent on the parent’s or sibling's additional need. Regardless of the caring role they take on they will face additional challenges at home and at school.

A snapshot survey (2018) found that half of young carers aged between 5 and 10 regularly suffer from a broken nights sleep in order to look after unwell family members.  It is known that the young carers that we know about are just the tip of the iceberg.  There being many more going unnoticed by schools and other support services.  Research by Barnardos (2017) identified that 40% of teachers were not confident that they would be able to identify a young carer in their class.

Studies suggest that just over a quarter of young carers have needs of their own such as a disability.  This can serve to further disadvantage them both in their daily lives and in school environments.

The importance of schools in providing support should not be underestimated, however this support should consider the specific issues that come with being a young carer.  For example, research by the Children’s Commissioner (2016) identified the importance of the young carer’s phone to them.  Their phone is a vital means for keeping in touch with those they cared for as well as the services around them:

“It is an escape and a lifeline to support.”

Definition of a young carer

“A young carer is someone aged 18 or under who helps look after a relative who has a condition, such as a disability, illness, mental health condition, or a drug or alcohol problem.

Most young carers look after one of their parents or care for a brother or sister. They do extra jobs in and around the home, such as cooking, cleaning, or helping someone to get dressed and move around.

Some children give a lot of physical help to a brother or sister who is disabled or ill. Along with doing things to help their brother or sister, they may also be giving emotional support to both their sibling and their parents.”

NHS Choices, 2015

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Enabling identification of young carers

Schools should see this as a common issue. While the 2011 census reported 166,000 young carers, research in 2018 suggests more than 1 in 5 secondary school students are providing some care in their home, with a third of these providing high levels of care.

  • Reduce stigma and ensure that everyone promotes a culture of openess around those who care for others;
  • Ensure that staff are aware that every child is a potential young carer and have this in mind when talking with pupils;
  • Reduce the number of times that a child has to tell their story;
  • Ensure that all staff are aware of the need to privacy when around the young person’s peers.

Impact of caring

Children and young people are not supposed to undertake inappropriate or excessive caring roles that may have an impact on their development. The Care and Support Statutory Guidance 2016 lists some duties which would be considered inappropriate, but you should also consider the impact of caring on young people:

  • personal care such as bathing and toileting
  • strenuous physical activity such as lifting
  • administering medication
  • maintaining the family budget
  • emotional support to the adult
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A report by the Children’s Society found:

  • Young carers are one and half times more likely to have a special educational need or a long-standing illness or disability;
  • One in 12 young carers is caring for more than 15 hours per week;
  • Around one in 20 miss school because of their caring responsibilities;
  • Young carers have significantly lower educational attainment at GCSE level – the equivalent to nine grades lower overall than their peers;
  • Young carers are more than one-and-a-half times as likely to be from black, Asian or minority ethnic communities, and are twice as likely to not speak English as their first language;
  • The average annual income for families with a young carer is £5,000 less than families who do not have a young carer;
  • Young carers are more likely than the national average to be ‘not in education, employment or training’ (NEET) between the ages of 16 and 19.

Essentially, through taking on caring responsibilities, young carers are missing out on their childhoods.

How can we support young carers?

Whilst there are specific things such as respite and arranged leisure activities that can help young carers access opportunities that may ordinarily be unavailable to them, the importance of daily support within school should not be forgotten.  Young carers themselves identify the importance of:

  • someone to talk to;
  • emergency /crisis plan (for example who will care for them if their single parent goes into hospital / who would they contact in an emergency);
  • mental health support.

All young carers are entitled to an assessment, either at the point that any agency (children’s or adult’s) identify that they are a young carer or when a young carer or their family asks for an assessment. The needs of everyone in the family must be considered to reduce and remove the caring responsibility placed on the child if possible.  Seek advice from your local authority as to how to access the local young carers support services.

Potential issues in school

  • being bullied – young carers are more likely to be bullied because of their caring role, reasons include presenting as withdrawn, not having a social life, general appearance, jokes being made about the person they care for.
  • not getting homework done because of caring responsibilities – young carers may not be able to do homework after school because of their caring role. Can this be done in school hours?
  • deadlines for multiple pieces of work being at the same time – where young carers are able to homework their time is often limited.  Can deadlines be staggered / extensions given?
  • worry because they cannot use their phone to check on the person they are caring for – many schools have restrictions on phone use, however for young carers this can present problems.  Can a specific plan be drawn up for a young carer?
  • missing out on school trips or extra-curricular activities due to having to be at home to care – often these clash with the requirements of caring.  With the support of other agencies can a plan be made to allow the young person to access these activities?

Research carried out by Carers Trust and The Children’s Society shows that, on average, young carers miss or cut short 48 school days a year.

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  • Lottie’s story

    A short video produced by the carer’s trust about Lottie, who now aged 22 has been a carer for her brother since she was three years old, highlighting the impact of caring on children.  The page also provides links to other young carers stories.

  • What can schools do to help young carers?

    Anti-bullying Alliance webpage that looks at the issues that young carers face in school and how young carers can be supported.

  • Know your rights: Support for Young Carers and Young Adult Carers in England

    Guide for young carers in England. This guide explains what rights they have and they can get more support. The first part of this guide tells young carers about what an assessment is, and the different kinds of assessments the law says they can have, depending on their age. The second part tells them about how the assessment works, and what happens after the assessment.

  • Hidden from view: The experiences of young carers in England

    While census data reveals a spike in the number of young carers, this report highlights the families and young people behind the numbers. Census figures show that 166,000 children, aged five to 17, are caring for their siblings, parents or others. This shocking number is likely to underestimate the true picture, as many young carers remain hidden from official statistics and the agencies set up to identify and support them.

  • Pie – A story for young carers

    A tale of trial, tribulation and shortcrust pastry, Gus Filgate’s film Pie tells the story of a young carer’s determination to treat his granny like she used to treat him. Produced by Little Fish Films

  • Young Carers in Schools

    The Young Carers in Schools (YCiS) initiative is run jointly by Carers Trust and The Children’s Society.   Link to their website with additional resources for schools to ensure that they are supporting young carers effectively.

  • Introduction to Supporting Young Carers in Schools: A Step-by-step Guide for Leaders, Teachers and Non-teaching Staff

    This resource has been designed with teachers and school staff to help make the identification and support of young carers in schools as easy as possible. It is for use in secondary and primary schools in England but could be easily adapted for use in the rest of the UK.  Developed by the Carers Trust and the Children’s Society.

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  • Training resources for Safeguarding Leads to use in team meetings;
  • Reference documents for additional information;
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  • Quizzes to test staff understanding.
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