How can schools support young carers

There are around 800,000 young carers in England with some as young as five years old. 1 in 12 young people care for someone and they save the country £132 billion a year in the unpaid caring they do. Their contribution is what the Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield describes as “extraordinary and humbling.”

What Is A Young Carer?

Young carers are children and young people under the age of 18 carrying out significant tasks and assuming a level of responsibility for another person which would normally be undertaken by an adult. The circumstances they find themselves in mean they are looking after a parent, sibling or relative with a physical/learning disability, mental health condition or long-term illness.

This involves giving help in different ways every day such as doing domestic chores, nursing care, intimate care, cooking, shopping, paying bills or simply ‘being there’. Many young carers have to get up in the night to care for their loved ones, missing out on their own sleep.

They may be the main primary carer and provide all or the majority of the care on a regular and substantial basis. They might be the secondary carer who is not solely responsible for all tasks however they do have some form of a caring role. Other tasks might include helping to care for younger siblings, including escorting to school, in addition to other caring tasks. They might also accompany the cared-for person to hospital or act as an interpreter for non-speaking sensory impaired or those whose first language is not English.

Being a young carer is far from easy and their responsibilities can be huge with pressures that are often overwhelming. As a consequence of the role they take on, young carers may experience significant problems in one or more of the following areas:

  • Staying safe
  • Challenging & anti-social behaviour
  • Social contact including access to activities
  • Friendship
  • Education and school
  • Physical health
  • Emotional wellbeing and mental health
  • Self-esteem and confidence
  • Finances
  • Housing
  • Family breakdown

The Impact On Young Carers

These pressures can have a very significant personal impact and young carers may not be identified as a ‘child in need’ until crisis is reached.

Sometimes young carers miss school or feel tired because of the help they give, they are confused or angry about life at home, they struggle completing homework and sometimes they are bullied because of their responsibilities at home. On top of this, some may have behavioural difficulties.

Young carers are 1.5 times more likely than their peers to have a special educational need or a disability. Around one in 20 miss school because of their caring responsibilities and have significantly lower educational attainment at GCSE level.

They can suffer from loneliness and often experience feelings of guilt and resentment too, as there can be a conflict between the needs of the person they are helping and their own needs.

It means their school attendance, achievement and wellbeing are all massively affected. A young carer becomes vulnerable when their caring role risks impacting upon their emotional or physical wellbeing and their prospects in education and life.

Hidden From View

Research by the Children’s Society has shown there is often a lack of information-sharing between children’s and adults’ services and poor joint working with other professionals such as teachers and health services. Clearly, schools have to ensure that they work closely in partnership with others as inter-agency communication and joined-up thinking is crucial.

The Local Authority must be proactive in identifying young carers in its area and have a duty to assess ‘on the appearance of need’. Under the Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004, Local Authorities must have “a protocol, shared between Adult and Children’s Services, for identifying and assessing young carers”. They must take reasonable steps to identify young carers in their area. Their assessment must look at whether or not the young carer wishes to continue caring, and whether it is appropriate for them to continue caring. Any education, training, work or recreational activities the young carer is or wishes to participate in have to be taken into account.

Where a young carer’s eligible needs are identified as requiring support, local councils have to offer support directly to the young carer or show that the ‘cared for person’s’ assessment has provided adequate care and support to prevent inappropriate care or excessive care being required that may have an impact on their development.

Some young carers will need to be placed under a child protection plan in relation to their caring role but not every young carer is automatically in need of protection. What schools must do is maintain a vigilant eye on a child’s circumstances and ensure that a family does not find itself in crisis.

Schools need to make sure young carers are getting extra help at school and the same access to education as their peers but it is schools themselves that need to know where to turn and what to do.

Young Carers in Schools

One key place schools can turn to is Young Carers in Schools, an England-wide initiative run jointly by Carers Trust and The Children’s Society, which equips schools to support young carers and awards good practice. They share good practice, provide tools and training, and celebrate the positive outcomes that many schools achieve for young carers.

In 2018, an independent review of the Young Carers in Schools programme was conducted by Coram. 115 schools were consulted and the review found

  • 94% of schools said staff were more likely to know what to do if they identified a young carer
  • 94% had a better understanding of the support required for young carers
  • 85% of young carers demonstrated increased wellbeing
  • 73% of schools reported young carers’ classroom engagement had improved
  • 83% of young carers demonstrated increased happiness.

Young Carers in Schools have produced a step-by-step guide for leaders, teachers and non-teaching staff which is packed with advice and support.

This sets out ten key steps to implementing effective identification and support for young carers in schools:

  1. Gaining an understanding about young carers
  2. Reviewing your school's provision for young carers
  3. Securing commitment of school leaders
  4. Introducing a Young Carers School Operational Lead
  5. Acknowledging young carers in principal school documents
  6. Setting up systems to identify, assess and support young carers
  7. Raising the awareness of school staff about young carers
  8. Raising the awareness of pupils and families about young carers
  9. Identifying, assessing and supporting young carers and their families
  10. Sharing good practice with others

The guide contains key information and practical tools which schools can use and adapt to suit their school structure and local circumstances and helps them achieve the Young Carers in Schools Award.

What Else Can Schools Do?

Schools can play a dynamic role in supporting young carers and reducing barriers to their educational attainment and improving their wellbeing. For example,

  • Establish a designated young carers lead who can coordinate provision and be the go-to person for students
  • Create a safe and discreet environment where young carers and their families can meet with school professionals
  • Provide staff training across the school about young carers and their responsibilities
  • Provide opportunities for pupils to learn more about young carers through assemblies and PSHE and promote positive discussions about difference
  • Support young carers who are being bullied
  • Signpost services and information publicly so young carers can access it
  • Provide time and space in school hours for homework
  • Ensure that deadlines are more flexible
  • Set up a peer support scheme so that young carers can share their experiences rather than suffer in silence
  • Plan support for school holidays as this is when young carers see an increase in their responsibilities

Young Carers Services

Schools can help young carers by making sure they are plugged into a local support group and confidential service where they can get together with others, access the help they need and have fun.

Local young carers services can offer safe, good quality support and have a wealth of expertise about young carers’ issues and local needs.

This allows young carers the opportunity to say what they like and what they don’t like, get their voice heard and have a break from their caring role. Services are also better placed to explain a young carers situation to school.

Schools can refer a young person who requires support they are concerned about to a project. Any person can make a referral on behalf of a young carer and young people may also self-refer. A database of local young carers services can be found at www.youngcarer.com

If there are no local young carer services available then schools can investigate links with other local groups such as the youth service, extended schools service or children’s centre.

And Finally….

Raising awareness of young carers across the school is paramount so that they are not hidden but monitored and evaluated regularly, in order for their needs to be met and their welfare protected. We must ensure that young carers are not educationally disadvantaged by their role.

Young Carers Awareness Day, organised by Carers Trust, is taking place on 30 January 2020. You can download free resources here and get involved on social media with #CountMeIn and #YoungCarersAwarenessDay.

Useful Organisations

Action for Children: Various services providing practical and emotional support to young carers.
Contact: www.actionforchildren.org.uk or 01923 361500

Barnardos: support young carer’s and their families with various services
Contact: www.barnardos.org.uk

Carers Direct helpline: confidential information and advice for carers 0300 123 1053

The Children’s Society: various services providing support to young carers
Contact: www.youngcarer.com or 01962 711511

The Honeypot Children’s Charity is the only charity in the UK to provide respite breaks and on-going outreach support throughout a child’s formative years. Contact: www.honeypot.org.uk or 020 7602 2631

Author
John Dabell
Disabled Teacher, Author and Reviewer

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