A young carer is someone under 25 who helps to look after someone in their family or a friend. On this page, we'll explore the impact of being a young carer, and the types of support that are available.
What is a young carer?
Being a young carer often means looking after a family member who has a short/long-term illness, mental health condition or disability. It can also mean helping them by looking after other members of the family when they can’t.
The Children's Society estimates that there are approximately 800,000 young carers in the UK aged between five to 17 years old. Older young carers (aged between 16 and 25) are known as young adult carers and may have different support needs than younger carers.
What does a young carer do?
A young carer often helps with tasks around the home, such as cooking, cleaning, or helping someone 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 person and other family members, too.
All of this care is often provided while the young person is still at school, college or university, or has even started work (in the case of young adult carers). Being a young carer can, therefore, impact your life in a huge way.
In this video, counsellor Keri Hartwright explains how therapy can help young people to navigate caring responsibilities and balance being a young carer with leading a happy and fulfilling life.
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.
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 concentrating fully whilst in class. Often, the school is unaware of the young person's caring role.
Work and finance
Affording basic needs or having enough money to socialise with friends are among 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 from those the same age as them. Many children can become socially isolated, often having no awareness of or contact with, other young people in a similar situation to themselves.
Counselling for 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. 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-judgmental 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.
In her article, counsellor Diane Feeney shares five things she wants young carers and their parents to know:
- You don’t have to suffer in silence.
- You are not the only one going through this.
- There will be brighter times ahead.
- Counsellors and therapists can listen to your anxieties and worries by helping you understand your thoughts and feelings.
- There are other services out there enabling you to have a respite from your caring role and meet other young carers in your area.
What support is available to young carers?
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.
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 MoneyHelper.
Charities such as Barnardo’s, Action for Children, Family Action, and 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.
Remember, you’re doing a great job, but everyone deserves help if they need it.
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.
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