By Stacey Dingwall
Last month the winner of the Apps for Good “People’s Choice Award” was revealed as a group of school pupils from Denbigh High School in Luton, with their idea for a mobile phone app to support isolated young carers. One of the team members revealed that “the problem that we are trying to solve is how can you help young carers get back into society, meet others like themselves and access the essential support services that they need – all in one place?”
The question of how to support young carers also gained publicity earlier this year with the launch of a national campaign calling for policy changes to help young adult carers to participate in learning and work. NIACE, along with other members of the National Policy Forum for Young Adult Carers, is calling for three specific policy changes: young adult carers to be formally identified as a ‘vulnerable group’ giving them full entitlement to the 16-19 Bursary; young adult carers to be exempt from the 21 hour rule in the benefit system; and young adult carers to be able to access flexible hours Traineeships and Apprenticeships.
The extent of young carers in the UK
New measures introduced in April 2015 through the Care Act and the Children and Families Act place a responsibility on local authorities in England to take reasonable steps to identify young people who are caring for an ill or disabled family member, assess their needs and explicitly define what those needs are.
Our latest briefing for our members, many of whom work in children’s services or the voluntary sector, looks at the impact that caring can have on young people’s lives and how support can be improved.
2013 figures from the Office for National Statistics, based on the 2011 Census, placed the number of young carers (aged under 19) in England and Wales at 244,000. Of these, 23,000 young carers were aged under nine, and 10,000 were aged under seven. There were also 149,000 aged between 15 and 19, around twice the number aged between 10 and 14. Estimates from the Carers Trust suggest there are 36,821 carers in Scotland aged under 25, and around 30,000 child carers in Northern Ireland.
In order to be identified in official statistics however, young carers need to be known to health, education and social care services. As acknowledged by the UK government’s 2010 Carers’ Strategy, many young carers actually remain hidden from services.
This is for two reasons: services need to do more to identify them; and some families actively conceal their need for a young person to undertake caring responsibilities, out of fear they will be taken into care. Another issue is that the young person or their family may not even recognise that they are classed as a young carer.
The practical, mental and emotional impacts of caring
With regards to the practical impact of caring, The Children’s Society has highlighted research by the Audit Commission which found that young carers between the ages of 16 and 18 had a much greater chance of being not in education, employment or training (NEET). In terms of the mental health of young carers, research by the Carers Trust found that 38% of those who participated indicated that they had a mental health problem. Additionally, the Longitudinal Survey of Young People in England (LSYPE) notes that young carers are 1.5 times more likely to have special educational needs, a disability or long-term illness themselves.
How to improve support for young carers?
The Carers Trust has made a series of recommendations for schools, GPs, health and social care services, and young carer and young adult carer support services, on actions they should take to improve the information and support available to young carers. These include that schools should establish a clear framework of support for young adult carers, which is embedded into the school’s policies and communicated to parents.
Our briefing also highlights examples of organisations who provide support and respite services for young carers, such as the Children’s Society’s Young Carers in Focus (YCiF) project. Part of the Include programme, this service includes the provision of a dedicated social networking site for young carers and those working with them, as well as specialist weekends, which offer young carers the chance to build skills and knowledge across a wide range of topics, including different potential future professions.
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