24 Feb 2016

Schools and local authorities are failing to provide potentially thousands of young carers with the early support they need and instead wait to act when their problems reach crisis point, a new report reveals. 

The Children’s Society’s report, There’s nobody is there - no one who can actually help?, shows that young carers, some as young as nine, are failing to get the effective and joined-up critical support from social services, health professionals and schools.  

Nearly half of the young people (49%) interviewed for the research said they did not feel they received adequate support, even though professionals could, or should, have been aware that they were dealing with household finances, managing medication or being a 24-hour emotional lifeline at home.

The research looked at the experiences of 45 young carers aged nine to 24 from the North West, West Midlands, South West and South East of England – regions highlighted in the 2011 Census data as having high proportions of young carers.

In some cases, it was only when they suffered problems with their own physical or mental health that they were offered any support, and even then it was often inconsistent and inadequate.

The report also flagged the tendency of authorities to overlook young carers who lived with both parents or within a sibling group and did not fit the stereotype of a sole child caring for a sole parent.

The Children’s Society argues that it is vital that anyone who works with children — including teachers, doctors and social workers — gets the specialist training they need so they can recognise the signs that a child is a young carer and find out what help might be required.

For young carers who have already been identified, their families should get the appropriate levels of help, with regular reviews in case these children’s or their families’ situation changes, for example, if the cared-for person’s condition deteriorates.

The latest Census put the number of young carers in the UK at 166,000*, but this is believed to be just the tip of the iceberg. Young carers can be at high risk for developing mental health issues, educational underachievement, bullying and social isolation. Yet there is no such thing as a typical young carer – and those interviewed for the research rejected the ‘hero’ label often given to them by society.

Emma, 17, a young carer who lives with her brother and parents in Warrington, says of her experience caring for her mother, who has serious diabetes: 'I've been a carer my whole life – I was injecting my mum with insulin when I was three. The first phone number I learnt was 999. It’s frustrating; we’re invisible.'

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said: 'This report shows that while some things have got better for young carers, such as improved legislation, there are still barriers to children getting the right support at the right time.

'It is vitally important to remember that any child could be a carer. And the level of care they provide can change due to any number of factors, like a grandparent who helped with caring suddenly passing away. Schools, councils and GPs need to be continually and sensitively asking the right questions to make sure young carers are not slipping through the cracks.

'We will continue to highlight the lives and experiences of these hidden children, because we believe no child should have to choose between childhood and caring for a loved one.'

The Young Carers in Focus programme, led by The Children’s Society, and in partnership with the Carers Trust, have been running a pioneering Big Lottery Fund-supported national Young Carers in Schools Standard to help schools better recognise and support young carers. Since it launched in July 2015, 50 schools have been awarded the standard under the programme and hundreds more have downloaded the free step-by-step guidance. Additionally, The Children’s Society and Carers Trust have been funded by the Department for Education to run training and a ‘trailblazer’ scheme for local authorities across the country to carry out ‘whole family’ assessments for young carers and their families.

Media enquiries

For more information, high-res images or interviews, please call Patricia Curmi at The Children’s Society on 020 7841 4422 or email media@childrenssociety.org.uk.  For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508.

Notes to editors

* Source: Census 2011, Office for National Statistics, cited in Hidden from View, 2013

  • There’s nobody is there - no one who can actually help?, The challenges of estimating the number of young carers and knowing how to meet their needs.
  • The research employed a mixed methods approach to understand how support may be better targeted to particular groups. This included a scoping of literature on young carers and their prevalence, secondary analysis of 2001 and 2011 census data, and qualitative primary research with 45 young carers, six parents, and 13 workers from young carers services.  
  • A young carer is anyone under 18 who provides emotional, practical or physical support to a parent, sibling or family member who has physical disability; chronic or terminal illness; mental health issue; or substance misuse issues. The Children’s Society has found that one in 12 young carers is caring for more than 15 hours a week. Around one in 20 misses school because of their caring responsibilities.
  • There’s nobody is there - no one who can actually help? is a Big Lottery-funded piece of research undertaken as part of a Young Carers in Focus partnership, led by The Children’s Society.
  • The Children’s Society is a national charity that runs local services, helping children and young people when they are at their most vulnerable, and have nowhere left to turn. We also campaign for changes to laws affecting children and young people, to stop the mistakes of the past being repeated in the future. Our supporters around the country fund our services and join our campaigns to show children and young people they are on their side.
  • The Fatherhood Institute is one of the most respected fatherhood organisations in the world. Our vision is of a society in which there’s a great dad for every child – a society that gives all children a strong and positive relationship with their father and any father-figures, supports both mothers and fathers as earners and carers, and prepares boys and girls for a future shared role in caring for children
  • Rethink Mental Illness is a charity that believes a better life is possible for millions of people affected by mental illness. For 40 years we have brought people together to support each other. We run services and support groups that change people’s lives and challenge attitudes about mental illness. We directly support almost 60,000 people every year across England to get through crises, to live independently and to realise they are not alone. We give information and advice to 500,000 more and we change policy for millions.
  • YMCA Fairthorne Manor is committed to ‘championing and adding value to young lives by providing experiences that challenge, enable and develop the individual'. In 2000 the Young carers Festival (YCF) was created by YMCA Fairthorne Group in partnership with The Children’s Society. The annual event brings together up to 1,500young carers from across the UK for a weekend of fun, relaxation and consultation.
  • DigitalMe runs a series of projects and programmes that put the power of social media in the hands of young people; the impact on the young people involved can be life-changing. Many participants, and the people who support them, have demonstrated enormous improvements in confidence, aspiration, and attitude to learning and life skills that will last them a lifetime. Messages from YCiF will reach 450,000 young people in over 9,000 schools over four years, through the Makewav.es website.
  • The Big Lottery Fund’s Youth In Focus programme invested £30 million specifically targeted to three groups of young people in need of support: young carers; young people leaving care; and young people leaving youth offending institutions to support these young people through key transition points in their lives.  
  • The Big Lottery Fund supports the aspirations of people who want to make life better for their communities across the UK. The Fund is responsible for giving out 40% of the money raised by the National Lottery and invests over £650 million a year in projects big and small in health, education, environment and charitable purposes. Since June 2004 the Big Lottery Fund has awarded over £8 billion to projects that change the lives of millions of people.