Young carers are children and young people
under 18 who provide, or intend to provide, personal care,
assistance or support to another family member on a regular basis.
They carry out significant or substantial caring tasks and assume a
level of responsibility, which is inappropriate to their age.
Caring tasks can involve physical or emotional care, or taking
responsibility for someone’s safety or well being. The impact
of taking on an inappropriate caring role can include
underachievement or absenteeism at school, mental or physical ill
health, and poverty. Most children of parents with health
conditions will not become young carers, but many do,
often because families lack flexible, whole-family support.
All young carers can need emotional support,
but some are particularly vulnerable due to the nature of their
caring responsibilities. Young carers who care for parents who have
mental health can have more complex emotional support needs of
“It’s not just the caring that affects
you… What really gets you is the worry of it all.”
- There are 175,000 children under 18 years providing unpaid a
care within their family
- 13,000 care for more than 50 hours each week.
- 250 000 young people live with parental substance misuse.
- 1.3m children live in homes where one or both parents have an
- 29% of young carers care for someone with a mental health
problem but 82% provide emotional support and supervision.
- 18% provide intimate personal care and 11% also provide child
- 27% of all young carers of secondary school-age have
- 40% of children caring for someone who misuses substances have
- % have been caring for 6-10 years and 3% for over 10
(from UK Census and Young Carers in the UK
2004 Report, Dearden and Becker)
Identifying a young
Research and evidence from practice has shown
that, for a range of reasons, young carers are often hidden and
their needs and those of the person for whom they are caring are
only identified when there is a crisis. Even then, the extent of
their caring role and the impact that it has on their own
development, may not be recognised quickly or fully assessed.
“Identifying young people with caring
responsibilities for a relative at home is difficult – they may not
have the language, confidence or self-awareness to relay the
physical and/or emotional impact of living with a relative who
requires care, let alone identify themselves as having caring
responsibilities”. (Baker, PRTC, 2002)
“Even when all the practical and
physical care needs of the person who has along term illness or
disability are being met, children still say that they care
emotionally and worry about the person”.
Caring for parents with mental illness
Mental illness is often episodic and unpredictable. Changes in
the behaviour of parents with mental ill health can be traumatic
for the children, and all the more so if they are trying to take on
some or all of the caring responsibilities. Children caring for a
parent with mental ill health can feel a great sense of
responsibility and loyalty to their parent and some go to great
lengths to conceal the illness and its effects and to make up
excuses for their behaviour.
"When she can’t do stuff that she usually
can do, or she stays in bed more than she usually would do, that’s
when I know she’s really poorly or she starts moaning that she’s
seeing them, then I have to give her another tablet"
Parents think their children are more likely
to develop mental illness because of their own illness but both
parents and children feared interventions from professionals.
Divisions between adults and children’s services mean that children
are rarely consulted about their needs. Family support is rarely
offered to parents and many professionals are completely unaware
that their clients are parents. Professionals think that caring for
parents with mental illness is wholly negative and damaging for
children but some young carers felt that caring had positive
Professionals tend to think that parental
mental illness is wholly negative, while young carers see some
positives such as developing life-skills, compassion and
understanding. However, the negative aspects of caring outweigh the
positives with young carers missing out on the life chances,
personal and physical development and educational and social
opportunities. Both parents and children fear that asking for help
will result in negative outcomes and children are rarely consulted
about their needs
The emotional wellbeing of young carers
The Royal College of Psychiatrists commissioned The Children’s
Society and The Princess Royal Trust for Carers to find out about
the emotional support needs of young carers.
In total about 800 young carers have
contributed, most at the annual Young Carers Festival via
workshops, poster boards and poetry writing, with some more via a
questionnaire sent to young carers projects, an online poll,
directed webchat session and two young carers focus groups. It was
only possible to break down the population for a small sample of
respondents. For this sample, two thirds were aged between 10 to14;
the vast majority were White/British with some responses from Black
African and Chinese young people; 64% were female and 46% male. The
consultation sought to answer questions on four key themes:
When you need emotional support, who
do you talk to?
When young carers are at home they are most
likely to talk to their parents (44%); in settings where friends
are likely to be, friends were the most popular answer. At school
21% would talk to a teacher; over half would talk to young carers
workers when available. In the online poll, 84% said they like to
talk to young carers workers but most did not like to talk to a
Half of the young people wanted to talk to
someone in their own home, the remainder at a Young Carers’ project
or a private room in school. Young carers said they would only talk
to someone in private and if they inspired confidence and trust.
Young carers’ family members gave similar answers where they were
asked about their requirements.
What helps you most when you feel
angry or stressed?
By far the most popular answers were to “talk
to someone” or “be on my own somewhere quiet”. Other popular
answers were to “be with a friend”, “play music”, “go to a young
carers service”, “write or draw”. Some responded that they
would self-harm. In the online poll, 81% said that caring made them
feel stressed, 88% down and 53% angry.
Top ten carers' tips for schools
- Recognise that being carers can affect our education and
- Find out about us and how we are not like other students.
- Take time to find out -sometimes we’re too embarrassed to
tell you ourselves.
- Don’t automatically punish us if we’re late.
- Provide more support such as lunchtime drop-ins or homework
- Be flexible about homework or coursework.
- Include information about young carers and disability issues in
- Let us phone parents if we need to.
- Make sure there is a clear and up to date community notice
- Ensure teachers are offered training on young carers and
What works and what does not?
Young people said that they coped with their
relative’s mental health problem by doing fun things for themselves
and “letting it go over your head”.
They tried to calm the person down when they
were distressed but sometimes felt like “beating them up”.
Young carers particularly value peer support:
“It gives me more confidence to know I’m not alone”.
Schools that had made links with young carers
services were felt to be helpful, but most young carers said they
felt that schools did not understand and that teachers were often
too busy to talk.
How can we help reduce the stigma of mental illness for you and
The young people wanted to see more information about mental
illness and more efforts to explain it to the people of all ages,
for instance showing videos in schools.
They wanted more opportunities for people with mental health
problems to meet and make friends. In the online poll, 48% said
caring made them feel proud, but 40% said it did not. 60% said they
had been bullied due to caring.