For many young people in the UK, caring for a sibling or a parent may come before any summer holiday plans. Research undertaken by the BBC and the University of Nottingham in 2018 suggests, there are up to 800,000 young people with caring responsibilities in England alone.
To better understand what it’s like to be a young carer and the challenges they face, we spoke to Rebecca King. Rebecca has worked across Barnardo’s, with children in care, care leavers and young people with disabilities. However, since starting work as a Project Worker with Lancashire Young Carers, Rebecca has been taken aback by how many “unseen” young carers there are and how much of their life is taken up with caring responsibilities.
Lancashire Young Carers work with around 200 children, offering one-to-one support sessions. They also run a monthly online drop-in session to help young carers feel less alone and support them to form friendships with other young carers.
Rebecca answers our questions about young carers, the work of our Lancashire service, and why summer can be particularly challenging.
What do young carers do?
A young carer is a child under 18 who cares for a family member with a mental or physical illness, disability or a challenge like substance misuse.
The caring role can vary massively. It can range from having to watch over a family member, carrying things for them, or making sure they don’t fall. It can also be personal care like making meals, collecting prescriptions from the pharmacy, running all aspects of the house, and admin tasks for parents with learning disabilities.
Whilst all local authorities in the UK are required to offer support and assess the situations of young carers, the challenges young people face and the support they need can vary from person to person.
There is such a variety in the caring responsibilities of young people. It’s been an eye opener for me to see the worry young people carry, and how that worry often makes parents feel guilty.
Why are the summer holidays different for young carers?
Whilst other children might be going on holiday or playing with friends, during the six-week break, it is understood that some young carers have to fit in up to 30 hours of caring responsibilities every week.
Research in Barnardo’s 2017 Young carers report showed that weekends and school holidays were particularly difficult for young carers, and the 2016 Department for Education’s Young Carers Report The Lives of Young Carers in England found that:
“Most young carers spent more time caring at the weekends and during holidays than during the school or college week”
Like many challenges facing young people, this has been exacerbated by Covid-19. A recent Carers' Trust survey found that since the start of the pandemic, 58% of young carers are caring for longer and spending on average ten hours a week more on their caring responsibilities.
Six weeks is a challenging length of time compared to a one or two-week half term. As caring roles increase over the summer, young carers spend more time at home and do not get the ‘break’ that school provides.
But there are some positives to the holidays. When young carers are at school they’re often worried about their parent, but in the holidays, they don’t have to worry during the day or juggle school and homework.
We always celebrate young carers’ achievements, and they frequently tell us they feel proud of their role in caring for loved ones. It also gives them new skills. Young carers often don’t want to lose their caring responsibilities, but they do want relief from the constant worry they feel about their parent or sibling.
What are Lancashire Young Carers doing this summer?
The majority of our work is carried out through face-to-face support sessions, but over the summer holidays we are running some online group sessions on a range of topics.
This summer we have a trainer coming in to run an autism awareness session, because many of our carers have siblings with autism. We want to explore the different ways that autism can present in young people and share coping mechanisms for siblings.
Lancashire Young Carers are also working with Kooth, a mental health resource for young people. Lancashire County Council has signed up to it, so we can signpost young people for this additional help.
Kooth will run two sessions for young carers this summer: one for those transitioning from primary to secondary school and another for the older young carers to talk about ways to deal with stress and anxiety.
Identifying young carers in education and raising awareness
Many children supporting a parent or sibling are not aware that they are entitled to support as a young carer, so we work with schools and teachers to identify young people with caring responsibilities.
Perhaps they’re turning up late, or maybe they're anxious or worried. Many young carers may be on their phone a lot - not scrolling social media, but checking up on their relative at home.
We want to work on identifying young carers who are hidden. Before Covid we ran assemblies talking about what a young carer is, because you can guarantee someone in the room will think “oh! I have a caring role.” It gets the issue on people’s agendas and gets them thinking.
I am currently trying to get pharmacies on board and make them aware of young carers. If they have a young person coming in on their own and picking up prescriptions that aren’t for them, they could be a young carer.
Lancashire young carers raise awareness: Ruby’s story
Lancashire Young Carers have a twitter account to support, educate and engage young carers community in the region. Earlier this year they celebrated Young Carers Action Day (YCAD) by sharing Ruby’s story. Ruby shared the skills she had gained from being a young carer and how she prioritises self-care.
Ruby says that although she used to be ashamed about being a young carer, she now sees it as something to be proud of.