The number of child carers in the UK is on the rise. Specifically, looking at our recent research into the area, we can expect there to be close to 150,000 unpaid carers under the age of 16 in two years’ time.
The highest proportion of these children will be in the 10 to 14 age bracket (87,566), while we can expect the number of child carers between five and seven to increase to nearly 20,000 by 2021. These are huge numbers, and whilst based on official data they may not include the cross-section of child carers that are hidden from society.
We’ve teamed up with a range of charity partners to detail the help available and to answer important questions faced by young carers.
What is a child carer?
This is a key question to answer, as many young people and children may not realise that they are in fact carers.
A child carer will be someone under the age of 16 that likely looks after a parent, both parents, or a sibling.
That person may be disabled, be suffering with a physical or mental illness, or have a drug or alcohol problem.
What kind of care do they provide?
Caring for someone else might involve things that are done every day such as cooking and cleaning. Young carers may also do daily tasks that the other person can’t do themselves such as bathing and assisting with getting dressed. They are effectively doing whatever they can to help their family member and keep the household running.
Many children or young people may not believe they are in fact carers as tasks like this become normal and just part of their lives. However, it isn’t a normal life for a child.
Does a young carer have to be the only one that provides care?
Again, some young people believe that they aren’t in fact child or young carers because they aren’t the only person helping out. If they are doing more than just helping out and care takes up a significant amount of their time, they would certainly be classed as a carer.
What are the problems that child carers may face?
If a child is putting a significant amount of their time into caring for a relative at home, this will likely impact on a number of areas including:
– Their school work or exams
– Money and their ability to find a job
– Their future
– Their ability to make friends and to find the time to and go out with peers
This can potentially result in feelings of worthlessness and desperation. It can also have a detrimental impact on their lives now and their prospects as they grow up.
Other very serious concerns that can impact the lives of child carers include the potential to be emotionally abused by the family member that they are caring for. Bullying at school is also a significant problem faced by many young carers and child carers.
Relying on the day to day assistance of a child may also result in the health of the person that needs care deteriorating through a lack of access to proper medical care.
What help is there available?
Childline is available 24/7, enabling child carers to talk to someone about any of the issues that they are facing, whether over the phone, email or live chat.
If a parent or child carer requests it, social services must visit to run an assessment, focusing on the following things:
– Any difficulties that may be being experienced
– What care is currently being done
– How this impacts the child
This assessment will help social services to understand the support that’s needed as well as whether it’s appropriate for the child to care for someone else.
Do all child carers request this assessment?
Unfortunately a number of child carers are well hidden from society and haven’t been assessed by social services. This is for a number of reasons including a lack of knowledge about the help available and fear about social services looking behind closed doors.
Are child carers eligible for carers allowance?
Carers allowance is only available for carers over the age of 16 that spend at least 35 hours a week looking after someone else.
Are there community groups to help child carers?
There are a number of options for community groups to assist child carers. Depending on the local area, these will consist of clubs, groups and specific projects, but all will have the aim of helping child carers by giving them an opportunity to make new friends with peers that are in a similar situation. Importantly they also act as a positive way to give them time off from caring.
How can I help?
If someone close to you has to take on care duties of a relative, it’s important to first reassure them that it’s ok to talk to someone. Let them know what help is potentially available to them and encourage them to make contact with social services or simply speak to someone through Childline.
Crucially, it’s important to encourage them to socialise with their friends as much as possible and find a regular hobby that gives them time away from home. These are all vital things to assist with their personal development, happiness and potentially their mental health.
If they are struggling at school and beginning to fall behind, encourage them to speak to a teacher who will be able to assist with their immediate school work and help them plan for their future.
CTA to focus on charity partners.