Being a young carer can have a significant impact on children and young people.
Young carers are children who have to take on the caring responsibility for a parent or another member of their family. This can be for a number of reasons but may include illness, disability, misuse of alcohol and/or drugs or mental health issues. Their caring duties may involve providing nursing and personal care, caring for younger siblings, and a number of practical tasks such as cooking, cleaning and shopping.
The impact of being a young carer is significant. It can cause children and young people to miss out on their education, as well as other everyday things that should be part of growing up. There can be a significant emotional burden for them to carry, feeling responsible for their family and being afraid of being taken into care. This fear can often cause young carers to keep the true extent of their circumstances hidden.
The need for additional educational support for Young Carers is recognised in Scotland. In 2010 the Scottish Government, along with COSLA published Getting it Right for Young Carers: The Young Carers Strategy for Scotland 2010-2015.
This document attempts to provide a profile of the young carers population in Scotland but acknowledges the difficulties in establishing clear and reliable statistics. The 2001 Census included a question to help identify the numbers of unpaid carers in Scotland, their ages and the impact their caring contribution made on their own health. This identified 16,701 young people in Scotland who were recorded as providing some unpaid care. The Strategy went on to say that the Census indicated that 13,511 young people were providing less than 20 hours care each week, 3,190 were providing more than 20 hours care each week, with 1,364 providing over 50 hours.
On their website Barnardo’s estimates that the average age of young carer is 12. They also state that the 2001 census identified 175,000 young carers in the UK. The 2011 census identified 178,000 young carers in England and Wales alone; an 83% increase in the number of young carers aged 5 to 7 years and a 55% increase in the number of children caring who are aged 8 to 9 years.
In addition to the The Young Carers Strategy, The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act came into being in 2004. A subsequent report to Parliament in 2013 – Additional Support for Learning and Young Carers – recognised that more needed to be done for this group of children with ‘hidden’ additional support needs.
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