Sadly the true number of young people who could be caring for someone they love is unknown. The last official figures, based on the 2011 census, found there were more than 166,000 young carers aged 5-17 in the UK. Recent estimates put that figure closer at to 800,000. In addition The Children’s Society believes there are a further 314,000 young adult carers, those aged 16-24, in England and Wales.
However, there could be even more than that, especially amongst the harder to reach communities. Young people who are caring for someone but no one has recognised they are doing so, or the young person has not come forward to ask for help.
We know that being a young carer can be stressful, it’s tricky to manage looking after loved ones, the pressures of school work and friendships. It means they can be particularly affected by loneliness. We hear all the time quotes like: “Nobody’s understanding me, feeling sad and on my own.” Another said: “It’s not necessarily being alone, more feeling that you’re the only person you can talk to and understand”
Research by Carers Trust and the University of Nottingham found that almost a third of young carers reported their own physical health was ‘just OK’, whilst 38% reported having a mental health problem.
As well as this, being a young carer can have a huge impact on their future prospects. As many as 27% of young carers aged 11-15 miss school and experience educational difficulties due to their caring responsibilities. This is putting their futures at risk, but if they are identified as a young carer by relevant professionals they can receive the help and support that they need.
At The Children’s Society we really believe any child who is helping to look after someone else needs support, but they can only get this if someone in authority recognises the signs they are doing so. One of our projects is doing just that, Young Carers: Building Connections is running in 11 areas across the country. The 15-month programme is funded through a grant of almost £80,000 from the Building Connections Fund Youth strand – a partnership between Co-op Foundation and government.
Run by The Children’s Society the project aims to reduce isolation and loneliness amongst young carers by ensuring professionals are given the knowledge and skills to be able to identify young carers from hard-to-reach groups. Our teams are not only working with youth services, local authorities and education providers, we are also focused on BAME communities, armed forces families, faith groups, refugee groups, families needing welfare support, families needing help with substance misuse and families living with stigmatised illnesses and conditions. It is all to raise awareness of young carers and help people in these groups to spot the signs and understand how to appropriately reach out and offer them help and guidance.
What makes the programme even more unique is how we co-designed it with young carers. We ran two events with young adult carers, asking them to think about why a young carer may remain hidden and then how they can be identified. Sessions also explored what loneliness and isolation means to them and how best to overcome it. We used their feedback and insight to create some of the structure and content.
So far the programme is doing an excellent job, we have been setting up events in each of the areas, many of which have been at capacity and there have even been waiting lists. More events are still planned, but feedback from professionals have proved just how much this kind of work is needed and in time we feel confident some of these hidden young carers will be able to step out from the shadows and receive the support they need.