The BBC has estimated that there are roughly 700,000 young carers in the UK. A young carer is a young person looking after a family member who is not well, or helping them by looking after the other members of the family while they can’t. The average age of a young carer is scarily only 12 years old.
Young carers often do more chores than other children would normally have to do. On top of providing emotional support to the person they are caring for, they may also have to learn how to nurse them or look after their personal needs like bathing and dressing. Such tasks can be difficult for grown adults to deal with, let alone young children.
Here’s some advice for if you’re struggling as a young carer:
Where can I turn for help?
1. Your teachers could be a good place to start when reaching out for support if you are a young carer. They could point you in the direction of getting some help from appropriate authorities.
2. A social worker from your local council can arrange to pay you a visit and offer you support if you or your parents request this. Social workers may also be asked to help a young carer's family if there are problems.
3. Childline is a free and confidential telephone helpline for children on 0800 11 11. You can talk to someone there who may be able to give you advice and get you help and they won't tell anyone that you have called.
4. If you're worried about your health, or the health of the person you care for, speak to a doctor or GP.
Local mental health nurses can also offer emotional support and advice about mental health conditions. If your parent has a "community psychiatric nurse", you can talk to the nurse about your parent's illness and how you can help your parent cope.
5. You could also call all the Carers Direct helpline on 0300 123 1053.
What happens if I miss too much school?
You may find you have to miss school to care for someone, but missing too much school can affect your whole future. It can mean you fall behind in work, fail exams and can affect your chances of getting into university or finding work in the future.
If you're missing lessons to help look after someone at home, or struggling to get your work in on time, it’s important to talk to a teacher about what’s going on at home so that they can understand what is happening and give you more help. You might not want your school to know you're caring for someone, but if they don't know about your situation it can be difficult for teachers to understand why you are falling behind. Try to get help as quickly as possible so the situation doesn't go on for a long time.
A GP, nurse, social worker or another person whose job is to help the person you look after should be able to organise more support at home to help you concentrate on school or college.
How do I maintain a social life?
Young carers can miss out on playing and spending time with friends and classmates. You may feel isolated from your friends because you don't have as much free time as them, because you’re often thinking about the person you look after or because you may be worried they will bully you if they find out you are a young carer.
Local young carers project or a carers centre may be able to help maintain your social life. Meeting up with other young carers is a great way to make new friends, have some fun and share some of your worries with people in similar situations to your own. Young carers projects may offer evening clubs, weekends away, days out and even holidays, as well as friendly advice and information for you and for your family.
Here are some organisations to look at:
1. The Children's Society runs services for young carers in many areas.
2. KIDS is an organisation specially for carers under the age of 18.
3. Action for Children can put you in touch with other young carers. It also has free places for young carers at its residential activity camps.
What do I do about money?
Most young children do not have to worry about money, but when you are a young carer your loved one may not be able to take control of finances on your behalf.
Citizens Advice has information on money, benefits and your rights. The National Careers Service has a helpline, webchat and email service about education and careers for 13 to 19 year olds. Support is also available up to the age of 25 for those who have learning difficulties or disabilities.