The idea of taking responsibility for a younger sibling isn’t far fetched, in fact for most young people this is a regular responsibility. For some children making breakfast so a parent can sleep in, helping a sibling with homework, cleaning up their mess or walking them home from school is a common task given by a parent. While these little things can seem boring or even tedious, for most young people it does not have a serious impact on their own lives.

But in some cases it does. In some cases these responsibilities may go past ‘once in a while’ and begin to affect the time a young person has to focus on their own school work or in some cases it could prevent them from going to school. In some cases they could prevent a young person from having a social life or contributing in any extracurricular activities. It may cause them to feel a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety. It may even prevent them from being able to enjoy their young adulthood.

This exact situation is at the core of Jaqueline Wilson’s 2011 novel ‘Lily Alone’, which continues Wilson’s series of tackling serious issues that affect young people. The book tells the story of Lily Green, a smart but timid 11 year old girl. As a result of her mother’s depression, Lily takes on the primary responsibilities of looking after her 3 younger siblings. After her mother meets a younger man on a night out with friends, she leaves her youngest children in Lily’s care while she goes on holiday with her new boyfriend. While this is a dramatic situation that may be a little exaggerated, the overall message of Lily Alone is to address the idea that some children are prematurely put into situations where they serve as a guardian to a younger sibling as a result of an absent parent. Unfortunately this type of situation is too common in modern day Britain, according to a report by the BBC in 2018 which suggested there were 700,000 registered young carers; it can be assumed that this number has wildly increased over the past two years.

Since we can identify that this is an issue, it is important that any child in a position that mirrors Lily’s is aware of their rights as a child, in addition to how the law protects and aids them.

Which of your rights can be affected as a young carer?

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child sets out some helpful guidelines that would apply to Lily’s situation. The most relevant being Article 28, the right to education, simply this means that you have the right to attend school. While this may seem like a right that all young carers already enjoy, unfortunately this is not the case; the responsibilities placed on young carers may prevent them from being able to attend or prepare for school. According to the Children’s Society around ‘27% of young carers from the ages of 11 to 15’ miss school on a regular basis. This right is impacted in Lily Alone as a panicked Lily refuses to let her siblings go to school in fear of them telling an adult that their mother is gone.

It could also potentially affect Article 15, freedom of association, there are examples of this in the book in which Lily’ responsibilities as a carer stop her from being able to associate with other people her age. In addition a potential breach of Article 19 can also be seen, Article 19 is the right that protects children from neglect. This can be seen towards the end of the book as while a case of outright neglect does not occur, an injury that is suffered by Lily’s sister when taking part in a dangerous act while unattended could be considered as neglect by their mother.

Can you be left alone to take responsibility for younger siblings?

While there is no explicit law in Wales which dictates the exact age in which a child can be left home alone to babysit. The NSPCC (The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) advise that a child under the age of 12 should not be left home alone, but this is just advice. The law that could apply to this book is from the Children and Young Persons Act 1993, which states that a parent that leaves their child alone in a situation that could lead to harm or injury can be held accountable. This occurs towards the end of Lily Alone in which Lily’s sister suffers a broken leg after climbing a tree in a park while unsupervised.

 Your Rights in Wales

Being a young carer should not affect your ability to have a childhood or young adulthood, the Welsh Government recognises that in situations such as these having support available for children and young adults is very important. The rights that you are entitled to as a young carer are set out in The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2016. These rights include: the right to well being, the right to have information and assistance and the right to advocacy among others. You can find helpful information on being a young carer on our Website; under ‘Law at home’. The articles in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child also apply in Wales, as a result the Welsh government has to make sure that every law passed regarding children fits in with these articles.

Lily Alone – Conclusion

With the end of the book seeing Lily living in foster care, separated from her siblings, we can see that the authorities have prioritised her safety and placed her in a safer environment; this serves an unfortunate ending as she ends up alone and isolated from her siblings who she tried so hard to protect. However while this is the end of Lily’s story it is far from the only story about the responsibilities placed upon the shoulders of young carers. It is important that we realize that situations such as these are not always straightforward and the struggles that we see in Lily are part of a day to day life for some children. As such, it is important for any child in this situation to know that there is a legal framework that can protect them and provide as much support as possible. As mentioned above you can read more about your rights as a young carer on our pages about caring for someone at home.

If you’re interested in exploring other children’s rights through popular literature, make sure to keep an eye out for  other blogs in the Reading My Rights series!

My name is Amy Jeffreys. I’m a law student at Swansea University and I will be going into my final year this September. I aspire to one day be a practicing solicitor in the field of business and consumer protection.