Professionals offer advice on a case involving an 11-year-old carer who looks after both his mother and younger brother
Jack* is 11-years-old. His father left home two years ago. Since then Jack has been caring for his mother who has mobility problems and a number of long term health problems.
Jack has a brother aged five who calls him ‘dad’ as he does so much for him.
Jack does most of the housework and helps his mother cook. He gets up in the middle of the night to help his mother get to the toilet. He will also get up in the night if his brother calls for him.
Although Jack seems competent when caring for his mother, he is lacking in confidence outside the home.
He had done fairly well at his previous primary school but he had difficulty adjusting to life in a much bigger secondary school. He has low self-esteem and was marked out as a victim by fellow pupils.
Jack was severely bullied and he has not attended school for a number of weeks now.
His uncle lives in another part of the country and when he visited recently, he was very concerned about the family. In particular, Jack seems to have little life outside of his caring role.
He also feels that Jack’s refusal to go to school will have a detrimental impact this would have on his long-term development.
He also had concerns about both children having little in the way of clothing and bedding.
*Name has been changed
The social worker view
Rachel Maloney, young carers development social worker, Lewisham Council, south east London
Jack’s role needs to be handled sensitively. Caring for someone is not necessarily a negative experience and young carers are often proud of the support they provide.
However, in Jack’s case support must be available to protect him as he has unmanageable responsibilities that are affecting his development.
Jack would benefit from the common assessment framework (CAF) that uses a whole family approach. Ideally, Jack’s mother should have a community care assessment looking at her personal support needs, practical needs (housework, shopping etc) and a welfare check.
Jack’s mother needs to know what support is available including the local young carers service and disabled parents network and she needs more parenting support.
A “team around the child” meeting could be called by the school and would ideally involve Jack’s mother, Jack, a young carers service, and Jack’s uncle if possible. Although he does not live locally he appears to be supportive and could be part of the support plan, for example providing regular telephone contact.
Any support provided needs to address the bullying, Jack’s anxiety around returning to school, his individual needs relating to his caring role and his lack of self confidence. The local young carers service can provide mentoring for Jack and peer group sessions to reduce his sense of isolation.
There should also be discussion about what support Jack’s brother may need.
It is important someone talks with Jack about the support that will be given to his mother so he feels “ok” about relinquishing some of his current practical tasks. Jack will more than likely retain his emotional caring role, given the absence of his father and how he is viewed by his brother, so its important his physical caring role is lessened.
The expert view
Chris Dearden, research fellow at the Centre for Research in Social Policy, Loughborough University
This family needs help urgently. If there is a young carers’ support group locally that would be the first place to go for advice and support. Many families prefer to use the services of specialist young carer support as they perceive it to be less threatening than social services.
However, social services have a duty to assess Jack’s mother’s care needs and Jack may require a child-in-need and carer assessment as well. Contact with social services would need to be discussed with Jack and his mother first and no action should be taken without their consent. Any professional who intervenes should reassure Jack and his mother that their situation is not unusual and that the family will be supported, not broken up.
Jack’s mother should have a community care assessment to ensure that her needs, including her parenting needs, are being met. She should also see a welfare rights adviser to ensure she is getting all the benefits to which she is entitled. A social worker may be able to put the family in contact with a charity that could help to meet some of their material needs. A support package for Jack’s mother should mean that Jack has more free time.
Jack’s school should have a bullying policy, but Jack may need additional support from education welfare services if he is to be supported to return to school. Jack would benefit from ongoing support from a young carers’ project. Typically, such projects provide information, advice and emotional support and assistance to both young carers and their families. This could include social activities with children who have similar home experiences. His brother may be too young to access young carer support but a project worker or social worker may have access to other types of support for the under-eights.
The service user view
Nicole McDermott, 17, looks after her brother Paul, who is six and has epilepsy and learning difficulties. She is helped by the Princess Royal Trust for Carers
Jack really needs a break and some of his responsibilities taken off him. He also needs to feel more confident and often the best way to do that is to help him to socialise with other young carers who have the same issues. Most of the children at his school would not be able to understand what he’s going through and he needs someone to talk to. He should be put into touch with his local young carers group.
It can sometimes be very isolating being a young carer. Caring takes up so much of your time that it’s difficult to socialise and hard to build up friendships. You can be so consumed with your responsibilities that you don’t know what it’s like to play with a sibling because you’re used to caring for them.
It’s easy to become resentful as well. It feels like a burden that you have no choice over because they’re family and you love them. A short break can really help. I recently went to a festival for young carers and even though it was only two days I came back feeling refreshed.
A lot will also depend on how supportive Jack’s new school is. I found it easier to cope at school, where my teachers knew my situation and took it into account, than at college where you have to turn up to lectures and meet deadlines. It’s important that his teachers and school staff know that he’s a carer and makes allowances for it. This will make him feel better about going back to school.
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