Special Report on how the role of caring can affect
The need to improve the educational attainment of looked-after
children is well documented. But another group of youngsters who
experience problems at school are often overlooked. That group is
young carers, writes Amy Taylor.
There are 175, 000 school-age young carers and one in five of
them miss school or experience educational difficulties as a result
of their caring work, a new report has found.
The publication, produced by The Education Network, an
independent body which supports local education authorities, states
that, as a result, many leave school with low grades or no
It adds that caring can limit their opportunities and
aspirations in later life as they may not move away for employment
or education and some defer leaving the family home.
Experiences are largely unknown
Despite the high numbers of young carers, the report states that
their experiences remain largely unknown outside the circle of
professionals and agencies working to support them and that some
schools don’t believe that they have young carers amongst
Alex Fox, young carers development co-ordinator at The Princess
Royal Trust for Carers, says that many schools only become aware
that children are young carers if they stop attending.
Jenny Frank, programme manager of The Children’s
Society’s National Young Carers Initiative, a national
project providing information and support to young carers, agrees
that this is an issue. She says that while schools are ideally
placed to help the group, because they see them every day, the
children will often try to hide their caring as school is the one
place where they are able to be themselves.
Problems experienced by the group at school include being unable
to always get their homework in on time, being tired due to having
to get up in the night to help their parents or siblings and being
preoccupied with worry about the situation at home.
“There are quite a lot of young people who have parents with
mental health problems who don’t know what they will be going
back to each evening so they are not really concentrating,”
Bullying is also a big issue. Other children pick up on fact that
the young carer’s mum might be in wheelchair or their dad
might have mental health problems. This can also be triggered by
young carers not being used to mixing with other children and
acting in a way perceived by their peers as different. Fox says
that has rarely met a young carer that hasn’t been bullied
due to their caring role.
Frank wants all schools to have a young carers policy and to
tell children and parents about this as soon as they enroll. She
adds that they should also have a named teacher that young carers
can go to for support and a community notice board displaying
information on local young carers groups or on the websites where
such information can be obtained. She says that, at the moment, the
presence of such policies is patchy.
Despite the major role schools have to play, schools’
watchdog Ofsted do not inspect them on the support they provide to
young carers. In January, young carers met with junior minister for
children and families Lord Filkin asking for this to be changed and
he promised to take it forward.
Frank and Fox claim that closer working and communication between
adult and children’s social services is key to improving
services for young carers. “This is as much about adults
services as it is about children’s services and that’s
something that has really been missed,” says Fox.
Frank is concerned that the separation of the two, under
measures in the Children Act 2004, could lead to the gap between
them widening and wants mechanisms to be in place to ensure that
they work together.
She says that it is essential that adult services think about
the rest of the family rather than just the person they are
initially working with and ask their client if any of their
children is performing a caring role and if so why.
“I would like to see more effective assessments of the
person that needs the care to prevent the child caring in the first
place,” she concludes.
Young Carers from: www.ten.info
Information from www.childrenssociety.org.uk/youngcarers