“I didn’t want my childhood to change because of my caring role.” (young carer)
Who is a young carer?
Young carers are young people who often take on practical and/or emotional caring responsibilities that would normally be expected of an adult. They may be caring for a friend or family member who has an illness, disability, mental illness or an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
Research by the BBC in 2010 pointed to a figure of 700,000 young carers in the UK and found approximately 8% of secondary school pupils interviewed had caring responsibilities.
Young adult carers (aged 16–24) may be particularly difficult to engage and be juggling demanding caring roles with new responsibilities and challenges that are common to others their age.
What are the problems associated with young carers?
Young carers are at risk of educational problems, family breakdown issues and physical and mental ill health due to:
- Isolation and bullying, which may arise from the restrictions on their social life and simply ‘being different’.
- Stress, anxiety and worrying about the person they care for and juggling responsibilities.
- Undertaking physical caring roles.
- Disturbed sleep in order to care during the night.
- Chaotic home lives and learnt behaviour when parents have mental health or substance misuse problems.
- Lack of exercise and unhealthy diets, as many are responsible for the household meals and have little opportunity for sporting activities.
Remarkably, young carers rarely say that they want to give up caring altogether, but they do want to have breaks and to take part in the activities, such as Scouting, that they see other young people enjoying.
Identifying young carers in your Scout Group
You may already know young people who are carers, but young carers often keep their relative’s health condition and their caring role a secret. Many families are scared that their children will be taken away if someone finds out about their caring role. Some young carers may not even realise that they are in fact carers.
Young carers are often bullied and will sometimes drop out of Scouting when they start to take on a caring role. Or they may attend less frequently without telling anyone the reason why. Other young carers will not even attempt to join.
All children and young people will react individually to their situation and as such, some young carers may be quiet and withdrawn, whereas others may become angry and resentful of their caring roles and this may come out in inappropriate behaviour. Young carers often seem
very mature to adults but you might notice them struggling socially with their peers or being bullied.
Helping young carers
Firstly, as with any child, if you are concerned about their welfare, refer to the usual yellow card procedures.
Young carers often say that they would like more support for the person they care for. Supporting a family to engage other agencies who will be able to support them can be helpful. This may be a young carers service, social services, the child’s school, a GP or another voluntary agency.
Sometimes just knowing that someone understands their situation can make the difference between a young carer benefiting from your activities and a young carer not feeling able to take part. Ensure that they are clear about what information you can keep private and who you might need to share information with in order to help them.
Practical tips for supporting young carers
- Make links with your local young carers service.
- By working with them and being a familiar face, young carers they are in touch with may feel able to get involved in your Scout Group.
- They may be able to offer you and other leaders training.
- They should also be able to help a family access further support. Some may need this in order for a young carer to take part in activities or nights away experiences.
- Always approach young people privately when asking them how things are going whilst taking into account the need to follow the yellow card.
- Look out for young people who start to drop out for no obvious reason and speak with the young person and the family, especially if you are aware of disability, illness or alcohol or substance misuse problems in their family.
- Ask the question at promotional events and in your literature, ‘Might you find it difficult to join because of caring responsibilities?’
- Ensure that events that involve parents are accessible to disabled parents, ideally offering transport to those that need it.
- Allow young carers access to a phone when on activities, so that they can check that their relative is OK if they are worried, rather than feeling they have to stay home to keep an eye on them.
- Make sure the environment is positive about disability. For example, a young carer with a disabled sibling is likely to be upset by other young people using inappropriate terms when describing people with disabilities.
- If a good relationship has been built up with parents, signposting them into additional support can be useful.
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