The quest to find young carers: Carers Week 2014

Cooking Togetherby Steven McGinty

This week, throughout the UK, there will be a host of events in support of Carers Week 2014. For the first time, the UK-wide annual awareness campaign is launching the Carers Week Quest, a new initiative to encourage improved collaborative working in local communities to reach out to carers.  It will also be the first time that the valuable role of #youngcarers is recognised, with the introduction of Young Carers Awareness Day on Friday. The theme for this year is ‘identifying carers’.  It is hoped that this week of events can help carers access the support they need, when they need it.  In support of #carersweek, Idox has decided to review the literature on young carers.

Young Carers

According to the Official of National Statistics (ONS), there are 178,000 young carers (aged 5-17) in England and Wales. Girls are also slightly more likely to be carers than boys; with about 54% of carers being girls and 46% boys. Young carers’ responsibilities include administering medication, bathing, as well as dealing with alcohol, drug or mental health problems. The majority care for family members, including siblings, parents and grandparents. The Hidden from View report suggests that 1 in 12 young carers in England are caring for more than 15 hours per week. Further, they are also 1.5 times more likely to come from a black, minority or ethnic community (BME), and twice as likely not to speak English as a first language.

Health and Wellbeing and Young Carers

An international study by the Social Policy Research Centre in Australia found that the impact of caring can have an effect on the mental and physical health of young carers. It highlights that young carers can suffer from stress, as well as feelings of fatigue and depression. Physical activities such as lifting equipment, as well as the person they care for, can take its toll. Additionally, most young carers recognise their caring role as their priority, and as such this can lead to an element of isolation from their peers.

Education and Young Carers  

The dual role of carer and student can be incredibly challenging for young carers. The Carers Trust found that 42% of young carers did not have a person at school that recognised them as a carer and who helped them. Only 15% had ever received any formal review or assessment of their needs. In fact, the ‘Be Bothered’ report found that many young people do not feel supported. This lack of support can often lead to young carers struggling to concentrate, being disruptive in classes, as well as failing to attend. The result is that many young carers have poor educational outcomes, achieving significantly fewer GCSE’s, the equivalent to nine grades lower overall than their peers.

Identifying and Supporting Young Carers

One of the challenges facing schools, social work departments and third sector organisations is the identification of young carers. Many young carers often don’t realise that the support they provide is caring, whilst others hide their role out of family loyalty, particularly in the case of stigma evoking issues such as alcoholism or mental illness, or through a fear of bullying. The complex dynamic of the caring relationship can often mean that most young carers are only identified when families reach ‘crisis points’ and are emotionally distressed.

Below we have identified some of the key lessons from the evidence on young carers:

  • Social work departments should have a dedicated social worker whose focus is on young carers and their families.
  • All social services professionals need to have training and information on how they can support young carers. Jargon-free information must be provided to young people.
  • A whole family approach has to be taken to support families with young carers.
  • Schools and social services must work together to take an integrated approach to identifying and supporting young carers.
  • The continued support of young carers’ social groups and respite services is essential for the wellbeing of young carers.

Final Remarks

It is hoped that Careers Week 2014 will raise the profile of carers, and in particular young carers, so that those who need help, will get it. However, this week also provides an opportunity to advocate on behalf of carers.  It is important that professionals, organisations, and local and national governments understand the invaluable contribution that carers make to society and that this is considered when important policy decisions are being made.

At Idox, we have provided a sample of the latest resources on young carers. The Idox Information Service is able to provide further information on young carers, and this is particularly relevant to those working within policy, as well as those working directly with service users.

Articles referred to in this blog (please note you must be a member to access articles):

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