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.
In 2010, the BBC estimated that there are 700,000 young carers across the UK. It was revealed that at least 13,000 of the UK’s young carers care for over 50 hours a week. In Scotland, there are almost 37,000 carers aged under 25.
Young adult carers aged between 16 and 18 years old are twice as likely to be NEETS (Not In Education, Employment or Training).
Since April 2015, a social worker from the local authority is required to visit and carry out a ‘young carers’ needs assessment’ to decide what kind of help the young carer and the family may need if this is requested. This assessment also determines whether it is appropriate for young carers to care for someone else. The local authority must also look at their education, training, leisure opportunities and views about your future.
However, The Children’s Society, which aims to help all children have a better chance in life, is calling for more government support and recognition for these young people. In it’s report entitled ‘Hidden from View’, the society states, “many young carers remain hidden from sight for a host of reasons, including family loyalty, stigma, bullying and not knowing where to go for support”.
The government has recently launched a school absence policy which also ignores young carers. New research from the Department of Education says, “even short breaks from school can reduce a pupil’s chance of succeeding at school by as much as a quarter”, and also highlights “the importance of claiming down on pupil absence to ensure more pupils regularly attend school”. However, the research and policy take no account of children and young people’s circumstances. It has been concluded that on average young carers will miss half a day of school each fortnight as a result of their caring role.
Carers Trust, the UK’s largest carers’ charity, is today calling on the government not to punish or stigmatise young carers who are absent from school. Dr Moira Fraser, Director of Policy at Carers Trust said: “We are concerned that this policy ignores the reasons why young carers may miss school – that is because they are caring for a family member, rather than because they are on holiday. We agree that young carers should be in school, and they need the right support for them and their families to enable them to be there”.
Instead they suggest that “schools should ask if high absences are linked to their pupil being a young carer who lacks support, or is being bullied. The last thing young carers need is for their absences to be punished or stigmatised”.
Children’s Society chief executive, Matthew Reed said: “Our new analysis shows that caring can cost children deadly. They are missing out on their childhoods and gaining fewer qualifications at school and therefore are less likely to earn a decent living”.
“All children must be allowed to thrive and enjoy their childhoods. One young person remaining under the radar, out of sight of the authorities there to support them, is one too many”.