Social workers and a service user offer advice on a case involving a girl of 13 who has had to take on her parents’ caring responsibilities
Lisa* is 13 and one of four children. She lives with her mother, father, a sister and two brothers. Anthony*, is the youngest. He is five, has special needs and is fed through a tube in his stomach. Her sister Kerry* is seven. Kerry has special needs and has Asperger’s syndrome, which often makes her violent and aggressive towards the other children.
At 17, Michael* is the eldest. He has just started a college course and is out most of the time. Anthony’s parents work full-time, so Lisa* has to look after the younger children and care for Anthony’s needs. This includes feeding him.
Sometimes Anthony will go to day care while the others are at school; Lisa usually collects him at the end of the day. When they arrive home, the house is empty and none of the children is allowed to go into the kitchen until their parents return home at about 7pm.
Kerry is collected from her child minders by one of her parents because she cannot be left without adult supervision due to her violent outbursts.
Lisa is registered as a young carer. She hardly ever has any free time for herself or to go out with friends, which she would like to do. She did ask her parents once if she could go to the cinema, but was told that there would be nobody to look after the other children.
Lisa’s parents forget that she is a child too and needs to be around children of her own age. She wishes that there was some help that would relieve some of the burden.
A caller to the NSPCC helpline expressed concern that Lisa had too much responsibility and that the family may need more support.
* Names have been changed
The manager’s view
Peter Rutherford, manager, Barnardo’s Young Carers’ project, Bradford
It seems that Lisa is carrying significant responsibility for her siblings and her parents are dependent on her filling this role. This has the potential to affect significantly Lisa’s own well-being and development.
The time that Lisa spends looking after Anthony and his complex health needs raises particular concerns about both Anthony and Lisa’s welfare – a potential safeguarding issue. I’d also be concerned that Lisa’s ability to develop and maintain peer relationships is affected by her parents’ demands on her as a carer. At 13 there is the added dynamic of Lisa’s own personal development and the chance that she will challenge her role.
I would advise engaging with the whole family. We would undertake an individual assessment with Lisa away from the family and then another assessment would be completed with both Lisa and her parents present. It is inevitable that this group assessment will involve difficult conversations such as the appropriateness of Lisa’s caring role or safety issues relating to the after-school arrangements for Anthony.
It is to be hoped that these discussions would lead to changes being made to help alleviate the pressure on Lisa, whether it be through accessing alternative care, parents altering their working hours or simply ensuring she has time set aside for her own interests. If there was a failure to consider these changes I think contact would have to be made with the local authority to discuss Anthony’s after-school arrangements from a safeguarding perspective.
The social worker’s view
Laura McLean, children and families social worker, Renfrew
As a young carer, Lisa has the right to an assessment under the Community Health and Care (Scotland) Act 2002.
Section 11 gives a “substantial and regular” carer of a child with a disability the right to request an assessment of their ability to care whether or not the carer is a child. “Substantial and regular” should be interpreted to reflect the particular needs and development of young people, and the Scottish government’s policy that children should not have a level of caring responsibility that has a significant and adverse impact on their ability to participate in education, leisure and social activities.
A Young Carers’ project could offer Lisa opportunities to have fun and time out, as well as meet other young people in similar situations. It may be that home care services could be looked at to carry out some of the caring tasks Lisa undertakes.
Lisa may also be considered a “child in need” under the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 because her development is potentially at risk as a result of her caring responsibilities. Any assessment should consider the family as a whole, as well as Lisa’s individual needs. There are some child care concerns that need to be explored further. Is it appropriate for Lisa to be solely responsible for Anthony after school? If the children are not allowed in the kitchen until 7pm are they eating anything until then? How do Kerry’s violent outbursts impact on her siblings, and is there a risk to their safety?
The service user’s view
Kelly Walker, supported by the Princess Royal Trust for Carers
Life can be tough for a young carer. I’ve been caring for my mum since I was 10. She has scoliosis and arthritis so she is in pain most of the time and she has trouble walking and moving around. I help her in and out of bed, dress and make sure she takes her medication. I also cook, shop and clean and help look after my younger brother.
I love my mum but sometimes I wake up in the morning and wonder what the day holds. Young carers struggle to cope with having to grow up quicker and not having the freedom most other children have. You feel stressed at home caring for your loved ones and you can’t concentrate at school because you’re worrying that they’re okay.
You miss out on seeing your friends after school and you can become distant from them. You can get to a point where you feel that nobody is there to help you.
Lisa needs to know there is help out there. I think she would benefit from a support worker who listens to her thoughts, feelings and problems. Being introduced to a network of other young carers is also invaluable.
My mum has a care worker who visits twice a week so I am able to go out for a few hours with friends shopping, cinema and so on and not worry about how my mum is because I know someone is with her.
This article is published in the 11 February 2010 edition of Community Care under the headline “Young carer allowed no time for her friends”