From isolation to independence: how good support can transform young adult carers’ lives

Small amounts of support can transform the life chances of young adults carers, says Julie Thurston, in this piece for Carers Week

By Julie Thurston, young people’s service manager, Suffolk Family Carers

The 2011 census identified more than 375,000 young people aged 14–25 who provide unpaid care and support for a friend or family member with a physical illness, disability, mental health problem or addiction. However, many young adult carers remain hidden from view, and it is estimated that the total number is at least twice that of the officially recorded figures.

The negative impacts of caring on young adults, which often increase as they grow older, can have significant and long-term negative impacts on their self-confidence and self-esteem, their engagement with education and employment and their overall physical and emotional wellbeing

Poor health and education

Previous research has found that young adult carers:

  • achieve lower GCSE grades than their peers – the equivalent of achieving 9 Cs instead of 9 Bs (Source: Hidden from view, The Children’s Society, 2013); .
  • are more likely to be Neet (not in education, employment or training) than their peers at the age of 18 (Source: Hidden from view);
  • are more likely to report “not good” general health and suffer mental ill health in later life (Source: 2011 census).
  • are more likely to have already suffered bullying at school – 2/3rds of young carers are bullied (Source: The Princess Royal Trust for Carers [now Carers Trust]/Children’s Society, 2010).

We also know they are often socially isolated and suffer from low-confidence and low self-esteem.

In Suffolk, we have been seeking to address these issues through Suffolk Family Carers’ young adult carers service, set up six years ago and commissioned by Suffolk County Council. Every young adult carer that is referred into our service receives an assessment and a package of support is offered based on individual need. This can include one to one support, invites to social activities and residential trips.

Fun and break

Over the years we have developed the service in response to what the young adult carers have told us they would like. They like to have fun and a break from their caring role; to enjoy activities, make friends and socialise with other young people who understand what it like to be a young carer – a place where they feel less socially isolated.

They also wanted to gain some life skills that would help them gain good employment, remain in further education and live more independently. As a result we offer, for example, self-confidence and self-esteem workshops, first aid and health eating courses. We support them to travel independently – many of the young people we support have never travelled on a train or bus before and we do quite a lot of outward bound activities to improve confidence. Our aim is to help empower the young people to make decisions about their own lives and build some of the skills that will improve their life chances.

A boost in confidence

Kelly is 22 years old and cares for her mum, who has a physical and mental illness. When Kelly was referred to us she was low in mood, low confidence and self-esteem with few friends and a negative outlook on the future. It took a while to engage with Kelly but once she started coming along to social activities her mood improved.

She enrolled on to our six-week confidence and self-esteem workshop, which gave her a lot to think about as well as practical tools to help empower her. The course also meant that she had to travel a significant distance on public transport and over the weeks she did this with increasing independence. This allowed her more flexibility in her daily life as she now had the confidence to travel on her own.

Kelly has recently secured employment – the first time she has been in employment – in a field that she has wanted to work in for a while. This has had a significant impact on her confidence, self-esteem and general outlook on the future.  She is looking forward to having some money of her own – the family are very poor – and building her own life.

Care Act impact

While the type of services available will vary from area to area we hope that the introduction of new entitlements from April 2015 for young adult carers under the Care Act 2014 and Children and Families Act 2014 will raise the level of support across the board for them. The Children and Families Act 2014 creates a duty on councils to assess young carers and then consider whether they need support that the council may provide.

Under the Care Act 2014, councils must, when assessing an adult, consider how their needs impact on the rest of the family, including children and young people. Where a young person is caring for an adult, councils must assess the needs they are likely to have on turning 18, if there would be a “significant benefit” for the young carer in doing so. Any such assessment should consider the young adult’s health, education and recreational needs as well as their future aspirations. On turning 18, these young adult carers will be eligible for support if they meet the Care Act’s eligibility criteria for carers.

Small changes make a difference

We would hope these measures enable more young adult carers to receive the support that Kelly has done. It is rewarding to see how much a young carer can benefit from some support. Sometimes it is just some small changes that make a difference – having someone to talk to, making friends with people who understand, having the confidence to travel on the train and come along to a few social groups is all it can take to make a real difference to someone’s life.  These are things that many young people take for granted every day of their lives, but for many young adult carers these opportunities have never been available to them.

Suffolk Family Carers is supported by the Carers Trust

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