28 Aug 2013

Maggie AtkinsonThrough our network of contacts, we enjoy excellent relationships with people from all walks of life. This regular feature highlights the personal opinion of a different person each issue. We’re thrilled to kick off this series with the Children’s Commissioner for England, Dr Maggie Atkinson.

'I was delighted to be invited to the 14th annual Young Carers’ Festival at the end of June, organised by The Children’s Society and YMCA Fairthorne Manor.

'It was a fantastic day and I enjoyed meeting some of the 1,700 young carers who attended. It was a great opportunity for them to chill out, to do fun things – hopefully without worrying too much about home – and to meet lots of other young people who know exactly how life is for them.

'Even though many of these children and young people do remarkable things and are rightly proud to look after family members in need of help, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s policy position has always been that the right support should be provided to young people who care for their loved ones so that their caring does not impinge on their childhood.

Maggie Atkinson being interviewed by young carers

'It was a privilege to spend time with young carers'

‘The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which underpins all my work, is clear in stating that the best interests of the child must be a top priority in all actions concerning them and that all children have a right to an education that develops their personality, talents and abilities, as well as the right to relax, play and join in activities. For young carers, these rights can be challenged by the weight of responsibility and stresses placed on them.

‘At the festival, I talked with some amazing young people who are carrying out caring roles at home. It was a privilege to spend time with them and hear about their lives. I met an Olympic torch bearer who has also been a young carer most of his life; young people  who, as well as carrying enormous responsibilities at home, are doing very well in their chosen subjects at school, college and university; young writers, painters and model makers; sports players and musicians, and more besides.

‘One of the things I enjoyed was being interviewed by young people for the YCFM radio broadcast which went out live to the festival site and then out internationally, across the internet. I was asked about how we can support young carers through teacher and other professional training, in the way children are worked with in their homes and communities, and in how policy is made nationally and locally.

‘It was great that the young carers also got to meet some of the people who can make policy and decisions that make a difference. They received a very supportive message from the Children’s Minister, Ed Timpson MP, who only the week before the festival, with Norman Lamb MP (a Minister at Department of Health), agreed to look at the law to make sure that adult services and children’s services work together to protect young carers by looking at their whole family – making sure they get the help and support they need. This was a real victory for the young carers. It is right that they should get the support, respite, help and advice that they need. Children and young people who care should always be recognised by schools, the government and others because their childhoods are affected by their caring role and are different from those of other children and young people.

‘We should do everything we can both to support young carers, and to make sure there are better services for their families so they can access the opportunities enjoyed by other children and young people of their age. I will go on being among the many people who champion these extraordinary young people. But I will also go on reminding us all that first and foremost, they need to be allowed  to be children and have the right to enjoy their childhoods.’

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinion of The Children’s Society.

Maggie Atkinson has been the Children’s Commissioner for England since early 2010. Her office champions the views and interests of children and young people in England. Learn more at the Children's Commissioner's website.