This blog was written by Jill Baines, CEO of Andover Young Carers. Andover Young Carers are a UK Youth member.
Carers Week is the perfect time to highlight the challenges faced by young carers within our society. Young Carers are defined as children and young adults between the ages of 5 – 18 who have caring responsibilities disproportionate to their age. They complete tasks, or suffer the emotional impact of having a family member with disability, chronic or life limiting illness, emotional or mental health problems, or who suffer the effects of alcohol or drug abuse.
In reality, this can vary from helping a parent with a few chores whilst they care for a severely autistic sibling, to almost total responsibility for running a household due to a single parent having severe depression, or disability.
Whatever the level of caring required, the impact on the young carer can be huge.
They may fail to submit homework on time as they were too busy washing their younger brother’s uniform. Young carers may make poor education choices due to the lack of parental guidance. Or their attendance may be very poor as they make the choice to stay home and care for their parent. Evidence suggests that young carers, on average, receive a grade lower exam results. The usual push for higher education from proud parents may instead turn to a parent reluctant to lose their primary carer, or a young person reluctant to leave due to worry.
They can be socially excluded from friendship groups as they tend to be more mature than their peers, are often reluctant to invite friend’s home. As a result of constantly cancelling play dates, they may eventually become excluded.
Young Carers can tend to overlook their own issues and problems, feeling that their needs are less important. If their parents have mental health problems they may be too focused on their own issues to offer support. In times when funding and access to statutory mental health services is being reduced, they may not get the support they need. This is a big area of concern; they feel invisible and overlooked by a system that owes them so much.
Part time employment after they reach 16 can be hard for young carers. They may not have the confidence to try. Or if they do begin work, may find that employers lack understanding if they are late or distracted due to their caring responsibilities.
Health and Wellbeing
Routine dental and health checks can be the first things to go when there are major issues affecting families. ‘5 a day’ may be totally unachievable when then the food shopping and cooking are being done by a 14 year old!
What Andover Young Carers do
So what can we, as a society, do to help these vulnerable young people forced to grow up too soon? Here at Andover Young Carers we are committed to supporting and advocating on behalf of young carers within Andover and the surrounding villages. We offer the following services:
- We work with local schools to run lunchtime drop in clubs, where young carers can relax with others like them. School and young carer staff are also available to offer advice, and observe when a child may need more support.
- At our centre we run after school clubs 5 nights a week. We offer rest and respite, interspersed with life skills sessions. These can be practical skills like budgeting, health and hygiene and making good education choices. They can also be emotional and mental health resilience and other issues identified by the young people themselves.
- During school holidays, we hold drop in clubs, and run trips. For some young people, this can be the only break they get from caring responsibilities during the long summer break.
- Our key workers attend statutory and non-statutory meetings to represent the needs and views of the young carers. Once young carer told us, ‘when I went into the room, you were the only person I recognised’. This was a meeting specifically discussing the needs of that young person!
We can all do something
There are many Young Carer’s organisations throughout the UK, we may all deliver different services, some in purpose built centres, and some from corners of busy city centre community centres. What we have in common is a passionate belief that we need to do better by these deserving young people we represent.
We must continue to draw attention to their needs at local and national Government level. We must push for increased statutory funding, and funds to offer appointments with Community Mental Health teams when needed. There is a need for training school staff so they don’t give detention for late homework, and instead offer support. Last but not least, we must officially recognise the need for young carers organisations, and provide sufficient statutory funding.