Young Carers Awareness day
Today (Thursday 31st January) is Young Carers Awareness Day 2019. Individuals and groups all around the UK are holding events to raise awareness of the rights and needs of young carers, with particular focus on how taking on this role can affect a young person’s mental health. You can visit their website to see how you can get involved and to download their free resources.
In this blog, we focus on identifying and supporting young carers in schools and colleges so that they can receive help, guidance and early intervention should their mental health become at risk.
A young carer is someone under 18 who helps to look after someone in their family, or a friend, who is ill, disabled or misuses drugs or alcohol.
It is estimated that there are roughly 700,000 young carers in the UK, equating to 1 in 12 secondary school students. It is highly likely that young carers are present in every single school and college in the UK. Sadly, many of these young carers may not be known to schools or local authorities, this means they may not receive the support they are entitled to and deserve, and their own life chances could be compromised. Carers Trust Wales discovered up to 400% more cases of young carers than had previously been known about in the 8 pilot schools they investigated. Those affected are thought to have missed on average 48 days of school a year, leaving with fewer GCSEs than classmates and at times even faced bullying as a result.
Typical duties carried out by a Young Carer include:
- Practical tasks: cooking, housework and shopping
- Physical care: helping someone out of bed
- Offering emotional support
- Personal care: helping someone dress/bath/go to the toilet
- Managing the household budget
- Picking up prescriptions
- Helping to administer medication
- Assisting communication
- Looking after siblings
Carers of all ages are put under significant physical and mental strain. Main stressors include lack of sleep, performing care tasks and the impact on finances. Children and young carers are put in a situation where they have to take on very grown-up roles, responsibilities and worries, meaning they lose aspects of their childhood. It is not uncommon for a young carer to have to manage the family budget for example.
Almost three quarters (72%) of carers in the UK said they had suffered mental ill health as a result of caring, while well over half (61%) said their physical health had worsened.
A quarter of the children supported by Barnardo’s young carers’ services are carrying out more than 30 hours a week of caring – that’s the equivalent of a full-time job.
Being a young carer can create compromises on an individual’s education. Many of the children and young people who care for someone in their family, or for a friend, will miss out on days of school. Even if they don’t miss school itself, they may be tired or distracted, their minds are often on those they care for rather than lessons.
Dear teacher, if I’m a little distracted in class, please don’t think I’m not interested in what you have to say. It might be that Mum is suffering more these past few days and I’m worried about how she’s managing while I’m not there.
Identifying young carers:
Some common indicators that a pupil may be caring for someone include:
- Often late or absent
- Regularly tired
- Worried or anxious about a person at home
- Unable to focus on lessons properly
- Underperforming at school
Helping young carers:
To be able to offer support to young carers, we must be able to first identify them. Many young carers will not come forward and ask for help – as they might fear bullying or feel disloyal to the person they care for. Some young carers may not even recognise themselves as such, after taking on the role at such a young age.
It took me nearly five years to tell a teacher what was going on at home and, after doing so, I felt as if I’d somehow betrayed our mum and her efforts to give us as normal a childhood as possible.
Schools need to be proactive in identifying young carers as soon as possible. This starts with creating a whole-school approach to offer an open and secure environment so that parents or children feel welcomed to come forward themselves. This could include training for all staff regarding reasons why young carers might not want to come forward, and well as identifying factors. Publicising information about available support and including relevant information within the curriculum could also prove effective. Young carers need us to care too.
Help outside school:
Written by Sam Franklin
 Supporting Young Carers: A Resource for Schools 2010