Thursday 31 January 2019 marks the fifth official Young Carers Awareness Day, which aims to put the spotlight on the challenges faced by an estimated 800,000 young carers around the country today.
By Alison Dando
Coordinated by Carers Trust, who work to champion and support the one in 10 people currently acting as a carer in the UK, the 2019 awareness day has a clear and critically important focus. This year, the campaign intends to highlight the ‘hidden’ mental health issues being faced by children and young people as they try to juggle the demands and challenges of their own young lives with the care needs of a loved one.
Statistics released last November by NHS Digital revealed that 13% of young carers reported that they had experienced an emotional disorder, as compared with 8% of young people without a caring role.
The mental health of our young carers is, says Matt Whitticase of the Carers Trust, a growing cause for concern, but one that all too often gets overlooked. “Our own survey research has shown that 48% of young carers who responded said that their caring role made them feel stressed. Despite the disproportionate prevalence of mental health problems among young carers, they all too often go unidentified by healthcare professionals.”
To raise awareness of this hidden struggle among young carers, the Carers Trust’s Awareness Day on 31 January will be using social media to get the word out. “We are actively encouraging young carers to get involved in the day around the campaign strapline #CareForMeToo.,” Matt explained. “This will see young carers raising their voice about mental health issues and calling on government to #CareForMeToo. And we will be calling on the public, politicians, commissioners and service providers to pledge real action in helping young carers safeguard their mental health.”
The sheer scale of young carers in the UK has also been uncovered, with recent research by the BBC and University of Nottingham showing that as many as one in five children and young people in England alone can be classed as a young carer. That’s around 800,000 under 18s who are providing some level of daily care and support for a family member with an illness or disability.
The level of caring varies, from helping with smaller day-to-day chores right through to high level, 24-hour care and medical support, as well as fulfilling the sole caring role for a parent.
No parent would choose to have their child as their carer but life, health and circumstances can radically change the family dynamic. And while the caring routine can become the norm for the young person it can have long-term consequences as they try to reconcile family obligations with their needs as a child or adolescent.
According to Action for Children, who joined forces with Carers Trust to look at the lifestyle impact of being a young carer, they found that young carers experienced increased feelings of isolation and loneliness, particularly during school holidays. With an average of four hours a day given to their caring duties, their role as a young carer is significantly impacting on their experiences of ‘just being a child’.
Carers Trust’s research has also shown that being a young carer can affect a child’s school attendance, educational progress, mental and physical health and future life chances.
Their survey highlighted that on average a young carer experiences disruption or absence totalling 48 school days per year due to the demands of being a carer for a family member. Even more worrying, only half of young carers have a known contact in their school who could help and support them and 68% said that they had been bullied.
The Trust is now calling on the Government to step up the support on offer for young carers and their mental health. “The Government has acknowledged in its own Green Paper, ‘Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision’, that the mental health of young carers can be affected by their caring role. They now need to ensure that young people get the support they need,” Matt Whitticase added.
Help for young carers
While the caring burden on young people cannot be totally resolved – and many young people naturally want to play a role in the care of their parent or family member – there is help out there to make it easier. There are also organisations that can directly help young carers to balance their home commitments with their need to just be a child or teenager.
The Carers Trust has a network of 84 partners around the country, which offer targeted support services for young carers. Their website also has a wealth of advice on the financial support available to young carers and their families. For more information on a Carers Trust partners near you go to: www.carers.org/our-work-locally
Just as important for overall mental health is to support young carers to stay connected with their peers and enjoy their life as a young person. Respite care may sound daunting but there are schemes and opportunities for families to bring in extra support so that a young carer can have much needed ‘time off’ to recharge their batteries.
Time out from their role as a carer can really be beneficial for a young person’s mental health and wellbeing and help them to keep on top of their commitments as well as school and personal life. Opportunities range from a weekly group session or social activity that enables the young carer to connect with their peers and have some fun, to an activity holiday or break away with other young carers.
www.carers.org or www.nhs.uk for details of respite support for young carers in your area.
What carers say…
Jess Siagian, 14, from Cornwall is a young carer for her brother Jacob, 13, who is severally mentally and physically disabled.
“My mum and I take it in turns being with him around the clock and have to do everything for him. It’s really hard for us to go out as a family – so we end up staying at home a lot. I spend most nights face-timing with friends to stay in contact, rather than meeting up.”
Georgia Fawcett, 13, from Leeds cares for her mum, Sarah, who has mobility issues.
“My days are usually very busy – I make everyone breakfast, sort medication for Mum, organise my brothers and I so we can get off to school. It’s tricky to juggle caring for Mum and supporting my family with school commitments and homework. I stay at home a lot through the summer holidays which can be hard. I occasionally see friends but not very often.”
Case studies from Action for Children: www.actionforchildren.org.uk
For details about Young Carers Awareness Day 2019 and to get involved, visit: www.carers.org/young-carers-awareness-day-2019