Young carers are children and young people under 18 years old who provide unpaid care to a family member who is physically or mentally ill, disabled or misuses substances.
The tasks and level of caring undertaken by young carers can vary according to the nature of the illness or disability, the level and frequency of need for care and the structure of the family as a whole.
A young carer may undertake some or all of the following:
- practical tasks such as cooking, housework, shopping
- physical care such as lifting, helping up the stairs and physiotherapy
- personal Care such as dressing, washing and helping someone go to the toilet
- emotional support such as listening, calming someone and being present
- household management such as paying the bills, managing finances and collecting benefits
- looking after siblings such as putting to be and walking to school
- interpreting for parents with hearing or speech impediments or English as an additional language
- Administering medication such as insulin needles and preparing daily tablets.
How many young carers are there in the UK?
The 2011 census identifies over 200,000 young carers in the UK, but research by the BBC in 2010 indicates that there are as many as 700,000 young carers living in the UK.
Carers remain hidden for many reasons including:
- they do not realise that they are a carer or that their life is different to their peers
- their parent’s do not realise that their children are carers
- they worry that the family will be split up and taken into care
- they don’t want to be any different from their peers
- their parent’s condition is not obvious so people don’t think that they need any help
- there has been no opportunity to share their story
- They see no reason or positive actions occurring as a result of telling their story.
Why do young carers need your support?
Young carers often go unnoticed in their communities, but the negative impacts of caring on young people can be very real and enduring. If left unsupported young carers can take on responsibilities that will have a lasting effect on their health and wellbeing, friendships and life opportunities.
Many young carers experience issues with their:
- physical health: often severely affected by caring through the night, repeatedly lifting a heavy adult, poor diet and lack of sleep
- emotional wellbeing: stress, tiredness and mental ill-health are common for young carers
- isolation: feeling different or isolated from their peers and with limited social opportunities
- Lack of a stable environment: traumatic life changes such as bereavement, family break-up, losing income and housing, or seeing the effects of an illness or addiction.