Protecting Young Carers

Apr 15, 2014 by

All my career I’ve had a particularly keen interest in the situation of young carers.

When I came across a situation where a child was looking after an adult it always struck me as a situation full of sacrifice and possible loss of childhood.

It’s all very well having compassion in the situation, but surely it shouldn’t exclude society from it’s responsibilities. Yet here we are in 2014 and looking at the facts on the CarersTrust website it brought it all back home again and made me realise how frustrating life is that continues to disadvantage so many young people.

In the four home countries, it’s estimated that there are 700,000 young carers. Many of them are particularly young.

It’s estimated that 13,000 care for adults for more than 50 hours a week each, and in so doing sacrifice their childhoods.

Their caring can range from cleaning, shopping, cooking, checking medication, dealing with family finances and helping with personal care. It can also include having to deal with violence and aggression from parents who have significant mental health problems.

Barnado’s say the average age of a young carer is 12, when you consider someone of that age has to provide regular care and emotional support to a family member who is physically or mentally ill, disabled or a substance misuser then the fast track adultisation of that child is nothing short of abusive by the society that should be allowing them to be a child.

I know that Barnado’s run many services across the UK – as do many other organisations – but this is all in a supportive role rather than finding supportive care, I do understand that children will see it as their responsibility to care for an adult in need and many emotions play a part in that situation – whether it’s guilt, fear or just sheer helplessness without alternatives. There are some young people who adults would emotionally blackmail into caring for them, but that is a minority.

There aren’t enough opportunities for young carers to take a break and interact with others of the same age. School is often a secondary issue and opportunities to develop themselves and grow in parallel with their peers are often sacrificed for the needs of those they care for.

With an increasingly ageing population, there will be an increasing need for family carers. Adults can, to some degree, make choices later in life, but young carers have fewer options. They find it difficult to negotiate help or respite.

The 2011 census identified an 83% increase in the number of young carers aged 5-7 and a 55% increase in the number of children caring aged 8-9.

The children’s society, according to the Young Carers in Focus partnership that it leads revealed that young carers are 1 1/2 times more likely to have a long standing illness, disability or educational need than their peers. They lag behind in school and live in families where the average annual income is significantly £5,000 per year less on average than where there are no young carers.

Whether it is the children’s society, Barnado’s, Carers Support, Local Authorities or any other voluntary organisation, it does seem scandalous that in this day and age we allow this haemorrhage of talent and childhood opportunity to be diverted instead of taking societal responsibility for those that need help, by all means include family members, but give the young ones permission to be children.

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