Young carers 'sacrificing their futures for their loved ones'

By agency reporter
December 7, 2017

New research by Barnardo's children’s charity shows how teachers are failing to identify and support children who are shouldering an extra burden as young carers by looking after their loved ones.

As part of the research published on 6 December 2017, a YouGov poll found that 40 per cent of teachers were not confident they would be able to identify a young carer in their class.

More than a third (34 per cent) of teachers surveyed thought there were young carers at their school who were not sufficiently supported and almost a third (29 per cent) said they didn’t think their school had any particular ways of supporting young carers.

This is despite some children and young people carrying out more than 30 hours a week of caring responsibilities – almost the equivalent of a full-time job – and filling in the gaps left in adult social care.

Barnardo’s research with practitioners working to support young carers has shown that caring can take a huge toll on children’s mental health, as well as their achievement at school.

More than three-quarters (75 per cent) of the practitioners Barnardo’s surveyed said that most or all of the young carers they had supported had suffered from anxiety, depression, isolation and feelings of anger. All the practitioners had worked with children who had self-harmed.

Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan said, "It is simply not acceptable that children are having to sacrifice their futures to care for the ones they love.

"Austerity has meant local authorities have had to cut back on adult social care and the result is children are picking up the pieces. A quarter of the children supported by Barnardo’s young carers’ services are carrying out more than 30 hours a week of caring – that’s the equivalent of a full time job.

"It’s clear from our research that there is a lack of awareness among teachers that needs urgently addressing. Schools need to take more responsibility to make sure young carers are properly supported.

"Looking after their family members is something that our young carers are incredibly proud of but it shouldn’t be at the expense of their childhoods or their futures."

Under the Care Act and the Children and Families Act, teachers – and other professionals working with children – have a statutory duty to identify young carers and refer them to the local authority to be assessed for support.

Young carers carry out tasks including cooking, cleaning and shopping, as well as providing intimate personal care, administering drugs and taking care of household finances.

The poll of 800 teachers found that nine-in-10 teachers thought caring responsibilities could impact negatively on young carers’ school lives as it could mean they were late or absent from school or have trouble keeping up with work.

Stacey, a young carer since she was three years old, dropped out of school in Year 10 because of the lack of support available there, and ended up going to a pupil referral unit. She also dropped out of college because of her caring responsibilities.

She says her school and college were only active and intervening when she was dropping out because they had to be seen to be doing something.

She cares for a parent with mental health problems who can be violent and Stacey herself has suffered from panic attacks, self-harm and anorexia.

She said, "Every day I’d go home and I’d think ‘will I have to call the police, what will happen today?’ I get very stressed and overthink everything. It’s very tiring. Every night I’d have a breakdown.

"I don’t think teachers understand that stress and that just puts extra stress on a young carer. It’s continuous in Year 10 and 11. You have revision, exams, caring – you don’t get time to stop. Something has got to snap eventually – one little thing can tip you over the edge.

"I think it can be hard for schools to notice a young carer; some schools are really good but a lot of schools aren’t. It can be hard for schools to find out that you are a young carer if your family doesn’t talk about it. Some schools know if a pupil’s a young carer but aren’t helpful and others schools just don’t know."

Despite recent changes to legislation which have led to more young carers being identified, there are still children with caring responsibilities slipping under the radar. And cuts to local authority budgets have meant that more and more children are taking on more and more caring responsibilities.

Carrie, 20, has been caring for her mum and younger siblings since she was six but didn’t realise until she learnt about young carers at school in Year eight, although she was carrying out caring responsibilities daily, including making dinner, bathing her mum and putting her to bed and helping her siblings with their homework.

She was referred to Barnardo’s young carers’ service in Year eight by a therapist after she stopped eating or speaking.

She said, "I do caring seven days a week and there isn’t a day I can take off. Other young people go home and their mums and dads do their washing and cooking so they can do their homework and play on their X Box until 11 or 12 o’clock at night.

"When I finish my caring I do my homework. My teachers didn’t understand how much of a role my caring actually was."

Commenting on the report, Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers  (NAHT) said, “Pupils learn best when there’s a strong bond between the home and the school. For schools to support young carers effectively they need to be aware of their circumstances, which are often extremely challenging. These families can be some of the most isolated from the wider school community, making it harder to pick up the warning signs in the playground or at parents evenings, for example.

“Many of these families may also be on low incomes, and NAHT has consistently argued that children from these families should be automatically registered for the Pupil Premium. This funding is specifically targeted at students who face challenges not unlike those faced by young carers. They should get this support automatically, particularly as the person they are caring for may not be able to apply for the money themselves. The additional funding would help schools to properly resource the ways in which they can identify and help young carers. 

“Supporting young carers mental health is another concern, but funding has not kept pace with this demand. The government’s green paper on mental health this week includes some welcome proposals but NAHT has been pressing the government for some time to take a more rounded approach to mental health provision, particularly to take some of the emphasis away from schools and re-assert the importance of well-resourced and accessible local support services.

“All too often we hear that young people are already in crisis by the time help arrives. That cannot be right, so the new four week waiting time for NHS children and young people’s mental health services is extremely important step forward. As the Secretary of State has said, every young person should be able to grow up feeling confident about themselves and their future. We now need the government to deliver on this ambition.

“NAHT will continue to work closely with the government to make sure that schools are able to deliver their part of the mental-health jigsaw, so that families – no matter what their challenges –  have a clear picture of how they can get help rather than facing the complex and often tragic puzzle of recent years.” 

* Barnardo's http://www.barnardos.org.uk/index.htm

[Ekk/6]

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.