Into the light

A middle-aged man walks through the supermarket talking loudly
to himself – his speech and actions causing embarrassment to
shoppers and staff alike. At a distance he is shadowed by a young
girl – she endeavours to be inconspicuous, but keeps him in her
sight. He pauses by the exit and the girl comes forward, takes his
arm and pulls him into the street – they are intercepted by a store
detective. In such ways young carers (whose parents have mental
health problems) may come to public notice.

The duty to assess the father’s needs for community care
services is clear. The services available for his care stem from
schedule 8 of the NHS Act 1977 and include the full range of
advice, domiciliary and day-centre services. All too frequently the
needs of the young carer have in the past been overlooked.

A study called Hidden Children, by social work researcher Alison
Elliott, found that young carers of parents with mental health
problems had difficulties which were more concealed, and more
complex, than those of young carers of disabled parents.1

The recent Social Services Inspectorate chief inspector’s letter
echoes this dilemma.2

The letter also emphasises that ‘whatever route is used to gain
access to services, an assessment of the whole family [should be]
offered which identifies both parents’ and children’s needs.’

The importance of a separate assessment of the young carer’s
needs is now reinforced by the duties created by the Carers
(Recognition & Services) Act 1995 which comes into force next
April. The Act imposes an obligation in such situations to assess
the needs of the young carer, the object of the assessment being to
determine the needs of the carer and service user.

In this case the assessment will necessarily concentrate on the
services which may be required under section 17 of the Children Act
1989, as the daughter is a child in need, her caring
responsibilities significantly impairing her emotional health and

Under section 17 and schedule 2 of the Children Act there is no
limit to the services which social services can provide for her
support. In this case it may be little more than counselling and
support once services have been secured for her father.

1 Alison Elliott, Hidden Children: A Study Of Ex-Young Carers of
Parents With Mental Health Problems In Leeds, Leeds social services
department, 1992

2 Social Services Inspectorate, Chief inspector’s letter,
CI(95)12, HMSO,1995

By Luke Clements, a solicitor specialising in social work

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