Our Safeguarding Manager, Daniel Jarrett, writes about young carers and how to best support them. He also outlines a case study from his own experience.
Young Carers can be defined as a child or young person under the age of 18 who provides care in, or outside of, the family home for someone who is physically or mentally ill, disabled, or misusing drugs or alcohol. Evidence shows that when children are responsible for caring for a parent / carer / family member within the family home, they can experience difficulties with their emotional well-being and poor health and psychosocial development, including physical injury, stress-related symptoms, poor educational attendance and performance, and restricted peer networks.
Stratistics from a survey completed in 2010 by the BBC showed that of the 7 million carers in the UK, 1 in 10 of these were young carers. The report also showed that over half of young carers (68%) are bullied in school and only half of them have a particular person in school who recognises they have caring duties. A more recent study by Carers Trust Wales found up to 400% more young carers than expected in 8 schools studied and of those young people, each missed about 48 days of school a year, achieved fewer GCSEs, and faced bullying.
A report completed by Lewisham Local Authority surveyed 617 young carers and found that 33% provided 11-20 hours of care per week while 68% provided domestic support in the home. At school, attendance, behaviour, and achievement can all be affected by a young person’s caring duties so it is important that they are given the right support and are identified as early as possible.
Some of the possible indicators of a young person having caring responsibilities include them:
- often being late and having unexplained absences
- being tired, anxious or withdrawn
- displaying anxiety about an ill or disabled relative
- being secretive about home life or showing signs of neglect / poor diet
- having problems socialising or making friends
Their parents / carers may also be difficult to engage with, not be attending parents evening, or not communicating with professionals and the school. Young people may be anxious in admitting they have caring responsibilities. Therefore, some of the practical ways schools and professionals can help in encouraging young people to self-identify include:
- providing relevant training and awareness raising activities to staff and teachers
- publicising information about support available locally to young carers
- creating a supportive and safe environment for young people to feel comfortable in coming forward and asking for help
Young carer responsibilities can affect a young person’s life chances, emotional wellbeing, and their self-esteem. and more needs to be done to ensure they are supported effectively.
The original referral for Zoe was a result of a serious incident in school where she had assaulted a fellow pupil and been verbally abusive towards a teacher. School reported that Zoe’s attainment and attendance was below average and her attendance since starting at school was 76%. Zoe struggled to complete her homework and had few friends at school. School professionals had equally limited engagement from Zoe’s mother who rarely attended parents evening and was very difficult to make contact with. Zoe also had a younger sibling who attended another local primary school and although her attendance was much better, punctuality was of a concern for the school.
It initially took several weeks to meet with Zoe and her mother and it was only through perseverance and unannounced home-visits that contact was finally made. Zoe and her mother were initially reluctant to discuss their home-life and were not keen on family support involvement. However, through an offer of some practical support around housing register applications, they agreed to my involvement.
After a couple of home-visits supporting mum in applying to the local housing register, she admitted to feeling very low and not having the energy to cook, wake up to help the children in the morning, or do household chores. Mum said that Zoe often did a lot of the cooking in the evening and helped in preparing her younger sibling for school. It was clear that Zoe was supporting her mum with the household chores and also supporting her with her emotional difficulties.
Mum agreed to a referral to a local talking therapies service as well as agreeing to speak to her GP about her difficulties. The family also agreed to a meeting at school to discuss the situation and make sure the school were aware of Zoe’s caring responsibilities and how this was currently affecting her school work and behaviour. In agreement with Zoe, I referred her to the local young carers group and supported the family in establishing a routine for before and after school to try and help Zoe improve her attendance and completion of homework.
After the school meeting, Zoe and her mum felt relieved to have told teachers and the school were also able to put additional time and support in place for Zoe with the school counselor. As a result of the routine at home, Zoe’s homework and attendance improved, as did the punctuality of her younger sibling. The support offered to mum from talking therapies helped her mood improve and the GP also referred her to the local community health team for an additional assessment. Zoe and her sibling began attending weekly groups at the young carers service and were able to improve their friendship networks and self-esteem as a result.
The improvement in mum’s emotional well-being and energy levels meant she felt able to do more household chores as well as establishing a better sleeping routine which helped her in waking up on time to prepare the children for school. At case closure, Zoe’s attendance was at the best level it had ever been and the school felt able to support her and the family moving forward. Zoe and her sibling continued to access the local support group for the next year and mum moved into part-time employment for the first time in 5 years.
Schools and professionals need to create an environment where young people feel comfortable in discussing their home life as well as speaking openly about the support available to young carers in their locality. The evidence shows that young people with caring responsibilities can themselves experience difficulties with their emotional well-being, school attainment, and future life chances. There are a range of different support networks that young people can access to support them in understand their family member’s illness as well as developing much needed peer networks.
Action For Children
Action for Children is a UK children’s charity committed to helping vulnerable and neglected children and young people, and their families, throughout the UK
Carers Trust believes in a world where the role and contribution of unpaid carers is recognised and they have access to the quality support and services they deserve.
Young Carers Together
Young Carers Together provide activities and fun days to give Young Carers a chance to have a break from their caring role and have some fun.
Youth Access is an advice and counselling network for young people.
Young Minds is a charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people.