A young carer is someone under 18 who helps to look after someone in their family or a friend. Carers Trust has estimated that there are 700,000 young carers in the UK - that’s approximately one in 12 secondary school aged pupils.
Young carers often help with tasks around the home, such as cooking, cleaning, or helping someone to get dressed and move around. Caring for someone may require a lot of physical help, such as helping a disabled relative, though it can also involve providing emotional support for the relative and other family members too. All of this care is often provided while the young person is still in education. Being a young carer can, therefore, impact your life in a huge way.
On this page, we will look at some of these impacts, as well as what rights you hold as a young carer and the types of support that are available.
Impacts of caring
Some people start caring at a very young age. When this is the case, the young person often doesn’t realise they are a carer, particularly if it is something they have always known. On the other hand, some young people become carers overnight - for instance, if a relative has a dramatic or sudden change in their health.
Often, young people are happy to accept the responsibility of caring for parents or relatives - and it can be a positive experience; young carers can learn many useful life skills, with the satisfaction of taking care of someone they love. But, caring for someone else often brings with it huge pressures - especially when, as a child, you’re at an age when the norm is for someone to look after you.
We speak to Charlie, 12, about caring for her mum:
Many young carers struggle to cope with all of the pressures on them and are often afraid to ask for help. In addition to the usual pressures of school and growing up, young carers are faced with worries about money, the future and, of course, their families.
Many young carers struggle educationally - struggling with the pressures of completing work outside of school hours or even to concentrate fully whilst in class. In a survey, 39% of young carers said nobody in their school was aware of their caring role.
Work and finance
Affording basic needs or having enough money to socialise with friends are amongst some of the main financial worries of young carers. Being a young carer can mean that you don’t have enough time or energy to work, whether full-time after you’ve left school, or part-time whilst still in education.
With many adult responsibilities placed on them, young carers often lack the opportunity to have a ‘normal’ social life, and their social experiences will usually differ to those the same age as them. Many children can become socially isolated, often having no awareness of, or contact to, other young people in a similar situation to themselves.
Young carers’ rights
According to Government policy, children should not be expected to perform the same care role as an adult, and adults should not solely rely on children to provide their care. However, this is not always possible in reality. Being a young carer can have a big impact on how a child grows up. Many young carers struggle to balance being a carer with going to school, having a social life, and taking care of themselves.
In order to prevent this as much as possible, the Government has introduced new rights for carers and their families. In April 2015 two new pieces of legislation came into effect, giving new rights to care and support for young carers, young adult carers, and their families. These laws are called the Children and Families Act 2014, and the Care Act 2014.
As part of the change in law, a social worker from your local authority must visit to carry out a Young Carers’ Needs Assessment to decide what kind of help you and your family might need - at a young carer’s request, or request of their parents. This assessment will decide whether it is appropriate for you to care for someone else – including whether or not you want to be a carer. The local authority must also look at your education, training, leisure opportunities and your views about your future.
What support is available to young carers?
If you start to feel that the impacts of being a young carer are affecting your mental or physical health, it’s important to reach out and seek help. Your individual assessment is the best place to find out about what support is available in your situation, but we will discuss some ideas that might be suitable for you.
Counselling for young carers
Caring for someone can be an isolating job, whatever your age - but, while you may sometimes feel this way, you’re not alone. Other people care about your safety and well-being, and there are many options you can turn to if you need to talk.
Counselling may be an option. Speaking to a qualified counsellor can help ease the pressure as they will often recognise the highs and lows of your role as a young carer. Opening up to a professional can give you the chance to talk in a safe, non-judgemental environment.
If you are ready to talk, but feel unsure of the next steps, you may benefit from speaking to a family member, teacher, GP or social worker. If they believe counselling may be right for you, they can help you start this journey.
Counsellor Kelly Dynes says:
I think the biggest thing that carers of any age can do for themselves is learn how to self-care. Whether it's organising a few evenings off a week to indulge in a hobby, a club, or some 'me-time', or talking to someone they trust, it is very important.
Other types of support
If you’re finding it difficult to balance being a carer with school or having a social life, but you’re not ready to contact a counsellor, there are many other places you can look to for support:
- Your school and teachers
If you’ve been missing lessons to look after someone, or you’re struggling to concentrate when you’re in class, talk to a teacher you trust. Your school might be able to alter your timetable, give you extra time and support to complete school work, or even provide a quiet environment for you if you find yourself struggling. But, if your teachers aren’t aware of your situation, they won’t be able to help you.
- Government funding
If you’re 16 or over and no longer in full-time education, you may be entitled to help with your family’s finances, for instance, through benefits such as Carer’s Allowance. To find out more details about what financial support is available, visit the Money Advice Service.
- Children’s charities
Charities such as Barnardo’s, Action for Children, Family Action, The Honeypot Children’s Charity provide many services for young carers and their families. Whether you’re looking for a respite break, local carers groups to attend, or general help, advice and emotional support - children’s charities have much to offer.
- Carers' organisations
Some carers’ organisations have set up online communities as an extra form of support if local groups are not convenient, or local to you. One example is Babble, set up by Carers Trust - an online space that provides a safe place for young carers to chat, share their experiences and to access information and advice.
Remember, you’re doing a great job, but everyone deserves a helping hand if they need it.
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