Young carers

Young Carers are not a homogeneous group, and their 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 when in education.

A snapshot survey (2018) found that half of young carers aged between 5 and 10 regularly suffer from a broken night’s 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 with many more going unnoticed by schools and other education settings.  Research by Barnardo’s (2017) identified that over 40% of teachers were not confident that they would be able to identify a young carer in their class.  A Carers Trust survey found that over a quarter of young carers find it hard to balance caring with school and college work. This rises to over half when they become young adults (18-25 years).

“They don’t seem to understand it’s a long-term thing, they just keep offering to delay things.”

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:

“When my mum is not well or has had an operation, I worry about her. It would help if I could have times out of the day to use my phone or to check with her.”

Definition of a young carer

A young carer is someone aged under 18 who helps look after a relative who has 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 sibling who is disabled or ill. Along with doing things to help their sibling, they may also be giving emotional support to both their sibling and their parents.

Adapted from the NHS

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Enabling identification of young carers

Schools and other education settings should see this as a common issue.  In 2018, the University of Nottingham and BBC News estimated that there are 800,000 young carers aged between 11-16 caring for an adult or family member in the UK, suggesting 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. It may be less common in early years settings, however, it is worth noting that research by the children’s commissioner found that 30% of local authorities that had provided data by age had received referrals for young carers who were under the age of 5.

In 2022, the Carers Trust found that around two thirds of young carers do not feel that their school or college always, or even usually, understands about them being a young carer.

Things to do that can help:

  • Reduce stigma and ensure that everyone promotes a culture of openness around those who care for others;
  • Ensure that staff are aware that every child / young person is a potential young carer and have this in mind when talking with students;
  • Reduce the number of times that a child has to tell their story;
  • Ensure that all staff are aware of the need for privacy when around the child / young person’s peers;
  • Ensure that relevant staff are aware of the young carers needs, and the support measures that have been put in place.

“School knows I’m a young carer, but it’s not communicated with teachers, and I don’t get help.”

Impact of caring

Children and young people are not supposed to undertake inappropriate or excessive caring roles that may have an impact on their health, wellbeing or education. The Care and Support Statutory Guidance 2016 (sections 6.71 and 6.72) outlines circumstances and duties which would be considered inappropriate, such as:

  • the caring prevents the young carer from accessing education or building friendships;
  • personal care such as bathing and toileting;
  • strenuous physical activity such as lifting;
  • administering medication;
  • maintaining the family budget;
  • emotional support to the adult.

but you should also consider the impact of any sort of caring on children and young people.

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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 twelve young carers are caring for more than 15 hours per week;
  • Around one in twenty 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, many 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 the setting should not be forgotten.  Young carers themselves identify the importance of:

  • someone to talk to, and help from their education setting;
  • emergency /crisis plan (for example who will care for them if their single parent goes into hospital / who would they contact in an emergency);
  • breaks and respite from their caring role, and help from services that understand them;
  • support for their emotional wellbeing and mental health;
  • connections to friends and their communities;
  • better support for those they care for.

All young carers are entitled to an assessment of their needs, 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.

However, none of this can be put in place until a child or young person is identified as a young carer. The Carers Trust and the Children’s Society have developed a resource, designed with teachers and school staff to help make the identification and support of young carers in schools as easy as possible. All young carers must be included in your annual school/college census. The Young Carers Alliance have produced a checklists and top tips which headteachers and senior leaders can use to help with this and with supporting young carers.

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.  Do you promote understanding about caring roles in your setting?
  • 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 / college 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 settings 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 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 from 2018 about Lottie, who aged 22 when the video was recorded 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 where 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.

  • 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

    Run jointly by Carers Trust and The Children’s Society, the Young Carers in Schools (YCiS) programme works with schools across England to share good practice, provide relevant tools and training, and celebrate the great outcomes many schools achieve for young carers. It is a free initiative that makes it as easy as possible for schools to support young carers, and awards good practice.

  • 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.

  • Carers’ stories

    A number of stories curated by The Carer’s Trust about various carers (both adult and young) such as Ollie, who has been a carer for his younger brother since he was about six years old, highlighting the impact of caring on children.

  • Katie’s story

    A story by the BBC about Katie, how she came about being her mother’s carer, and what it entails.

  • Young carer facts

    The Children’s Society have put together a page of information about young carers.

  • My Mental Health – Video and Toolkit

    My Mental Health is a Carers Trust project which ran from Autumn 2017 to March 2021. It provided young carers, young adult carers and the staff who support them with the knowledge, confidence and opportunities to understand their mental health needs and campaign to bring about positive change.

  • COVID-19 – One Year On – The voices of young carers and young adult carers.

    For Young Carers Action Day 2021, Caring Together supported young carers and young adult carers to run a survey one year into the coronavirus pandemic. This was to help people understand as much as possible about their situations and needs, and what support they felt they needed.

  • It’s harder than anyone understands

    A Carers Trust report published in 2022 on the experiences and thoughts of children and young adults aged between 12 and 25 about their current caring role.

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