Many people are shocked to hear that children as young as five years old have caring responsibilities.
However, the 2011 Census found that there were nearly 10 000 young carers aged 5–7 in England and Wales. Furthermore, the figures showed an 83% increase since 2001 in the number of 5–7 year olds providing unpaid care (UK Census, 2011).
This worrying rise in the number of very young children caring for family and friends, along with the many unidentified young carers, clearly demonstrates the need for the law to protect this vulnerable group of children and young people.
The Children and Families Act 2014 now gives young carers in England a right to an assessment of their own needs, no matter how much caring they do. Local authorities must proactively identify young carers, prevent them from having excessive and inappropriate caring roles and use a whole family approach to consider how the needs of a young carer or young adult carer are linked to the needs of a person receiving care.
Despite the fact that there are children under eight who have caring responsibilities, many services for young carers only start working with children once they reach eight years old. One of the reasons for this is uncertainty around whether a service working with very young carers is required to register with Ofsted.
As a result, many services are not targeting young carers under eight years old and young carers services in general may not have the expertise, resources or knowledge to work with this age group.
Part one of Supporting Young Carers Aged 5-8: A Resource for Professionals Working with Younger Carers aims to bring clarity for services working with young carers, as to whether or not it is necessary for them to register with Ofsted if they choose to work with children under eight years old. This will of course depend on what a service delivers, however for some, as the guidance shows, registration may not be necessary. Part two presents some local practice being undertaken by Carers Trust Network Partner, Carers Lewisham, with young carers aged 5–8 and sets out what has been achieved by working with this young age group.
We hope that taken together, this resource will inspire services to start supporting very young carers and will provide them with ideas about what support is useful, as well as how to deliver such a service.
As a consequence of dedicated support for this age group, it is also hoped that awareness of younger carers by other services and professionals will also improve, so that children and their families are identified earlier and receive timely support.