Young Carers Awareness Day shines a light on the experiences of the thousands of children in England who care for their siblings and parents. It’s an opportunity to recognise the remarkable contribution young carers make to the lives of those around them. But young carers also tell us that their mental health is affected by their caring role, and all too often they say that the support they need isn’t there.
In our last report on young carers, 68% of young carers told us they are bullied in school, so it is essential we give them the support they need to feel safe and achieve their goals. And yet we know there is a support gap. We estimated that approximately 4 out of 5 young carers are not receiving help from their local authority, and not all local authorities are taking steps to provide support for the children who may be carers in their area.
Young carers often take on their caring role with love and without complaint – and they can pay a price in poor health coupled with lower school results and long-term life chances. Even if young carers accept their situation with a sense of duty and compassion, they also say they want the chance to enjoy their childhood.
Not only are young carers more likely to fall behind in education and experience mental health issues, their caring role can sometimes prevent them from making and maintaining friendships. This isolation can easily be exacerbated: young carers often won’t ask for help for fear of being taken into care.
With some carers as young as 5 years old, and 1 in 12 young carers caring for over 15 hours a week, it is essential local authorities identify the support gap – and then close it.
So what do young carers need? Firstly, we must know where they are so we can help them. According to our research 36% of responding local authorities stated that when assessing the person being cared for, adult services were not routinely asking if a young carer was involved.
As well as time to enjoy their childhood, young carers tell us they need extra support in education, especially if they are missing classes and falling behind; health professionals such as GPs need a better understanding of the issues young carers face; and essentially, local authorities need funding to ensure satisfactory help is there when needed. This might be peer support groups or respite arrangements, but young carers shouldn’t have to ask.
The role young carers take on is extraordinary and humbling. But this remarkable constituency of children is also remarkably vulnerable. Today is a chance to pay tribute to the love and care they show their families, but it’s also important that this love and care is reciprocated to young carers in return. This year’s theme for Young Carers Awareness Day is #CareForMeToo. Young carers are telling us they want more help. We need to listen.