The school day is over and all of your friends are talking about their plans for the rest of the day. You can’t join in though. Like other Young Carers, you have to think about other things.
While your friends are free to go out and play, you will busy looking after your brother. You’ll help him get around the house, help with his bedtime routine, provide emotional support to your parents and help out with the housework. On top of this, you have homework to do – and you’d really love some time for yourself to just relax.
By the time all of that is done, it’s time to go to bed. Too soon, you wake up the next morning for it all to begin again. You soon find yourself isolated in school, falling behind in your studies, and notice things getting more difficult at home. Day after day, week after week, month after month, it just gets more intense, but you don’t complain – families are supposed to help each other, right?
Across Wales right now there are many young people who are supporting a family member who is ill or disabled. According to the 2011 census, there are over 7,500 young carers aged 16 and under in Wales, the highest proportion of carers this age in the UK. The actual figure may be higher than this because of the difficulties in identifying young carers. Many Young Carers don’t think of themselves as being in a ‘caring’ role – they are just doing what their family needs.
If you’re not a Young Carer yourself, look around your class next time you’re in school. Chances are that at least one of the students in your class will be caring for a member of their family.
Being a Young Carer can affect your ability to enjoy the rights that all children have, which you can read in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Your right to education (Articles 28 and 29 UNCRC) can be affected if your caring responsibilities make it difficult for you to go to school regularly, or to get all your homework done. Lots of young carers say that this affects their results in school and can make it more difficult for them to go on to college or university or find work when they finish in school.
Your responsibilities can affect your right to make friends (Article 15 UNCRC) and your right to relax and play (Article 31 UNCRC). You may just not have the time to get together with other people.
If there’s someone in your class who always has to go straight from school to home and never comes out to play, go to the cinema or just hang out, they may be dealing with the responsibilities of looking after a family member. Even if they could invite friends round the house, they may feel uncomfortable about doing so. They might worry that they will be judged because of what’s going on at home.
Young Carers do amazing work in caring for their family, but they deserve care and support too.
The Welsh Government recognises this need to support young carers so that they can go to school, play and relax and enjoy the rights that all children should have under the UNCRC. The Welsh Government’s ‘Carers Strategy’ 2013- 2016 said that young carers should be able to enjoy their rights under the UNCRC and that all agencies that support them (for example schools and local authorities) should give ‘due regard’ to these rights.
The law in Wales now recognises that Young Carers need extra care and support themselves, as well as the person or people they are caring for. The Social Services and Well-being Act (2014) says that local authorities and partner organisations such as local health boards, have to conduct an assessment of a young carer’s needs and agree a support plan to make sure their needs are met.
A report by Estyn, the schools inspectorate in Wales, published in May 2019 found many examples of where schools, local authorities and others have made good progress in meeting the needs of young carers, but that this support isn’t the same across Wales. Many schools don’t know how many of their pupils are young carers or they don’t have a lead member of staff who young carers can speak to and raise concerns with. Many local authorities don’t have robust strategies in place, or don’t have someone who can work with partner organisations to make the strategy a reality. Many people, in our schools, councils, and communities, are simply not being given the information and tools they need to ensure that young carers are being properly supported.
There is enormous room for improvement.
Young Carers Awareness Day is an annual event led by the Carers Trust, raising awareness of the challenges faced by young carers and the campaigns for greater support for them. This year, they are campaigning for education providers to proactively identify young carers so that they can be given the recognition and support they need and deserve.