When you think of a carer, many may automatically conjure up an image of an adult – whether a professional carer, or a family member. But in addition to 6.5 million adult carers in the UK, it’s thought there are as many as 800,000 young people under the age of 18 providing support to their families too.

National Carers Week is traditionally a time to pay tribute to all those unpaid carers that work tirelessly to care and support their loved ones – no matter what their age – and we’re now highlighting the hard work many young people are juggling every day to care for those they love…

What exactly is a young carer?

A young carer is a person under the age of 18 who is providing care and support to a family member or loved one who may be experiencing ill health, disability, mental health issues or misusing drugs or alcohol.

A recent study, undertaken by the University of Nottingham, reported that one in five school-aged children are young carers. Whilst the majority of this group are aged between 11-16 years, children as young as five are providing care and support.

How do young carers support their families?

Young carers support their families in much the same way as adult carers – and face the same challenges and commitments. They may be responsible for:

  • Looking after brothers and sisters
  • Helping with housework, cooking, laundry, shopping, managing the family budget
  • Administering medication and collecting prescriptions
  • Providing emotional support
  • Providing personal care – such as washing, bathing and dressing
  • Supporting with mobility issues and assistance with getting up or going to bed
The impact of caring on young carers

Your childhood is a time when you should be having fun, exploring, and learning about the wider world. A time for developing relationships and identifying who you are, as well as planning how you want to live your life as you slowly transition into adulthood.

However, for many young carers, this is sadly not the case.

Many suffer isolation and loneliness, loss of identity, experience bullying, struggle with their mental health and get little relief from the pressures they’re under at home.

The Children’s Society recently reported that up to 27% of young carers aged 11-15 regularly miss school, struggle to keep up with their schoolwork and, as a result, do not go on to reach their full potential.

Meanwhile, several young carers can find it difficult to ask for help, as they worry about the impact this may have on their families. But help IS available…

Help for young carers:

If you are a young carer, knowing where to turn to get help and support can be very daunting. It’s not always easy to talk to your family or relatives about how you are feeling, so having a trusted person outside of your situation to talk to can be a good place to start.

This might be a teacher who can help support you if you’re struggling at school. They can help with practical things like arranging extra time for schoolwork, help with homework clubs, liaising with other teachers on your behalf, as well as being someone for you to confide in during tough times.

If needed, your GP will be able to refer you to someone to talk to, or for some counselling support. And social services can provide a Carers’ Assessment, to look at any support you might be entitled to, to assist you in looking after your family and managing other commitments…

Carers’ Assessment:

A Young Carers’ Assessment is very different from an adults one, as it looks at your whole family’s circumstances and work out what help you might need.

The assessment will consider the level of support that is needed and whether you are the appropriate person to be providing it, or whether you might need help. The assessment will also consider your views on your education, how you want to spend your leisure time, what you want to do in the future, and even consider whether you want to be carer. Being a young carer is a huge responsibility and there is no shame in asking for support, we all need a helping hand from time to time.

It is important to get the help you need to ensure that you get some time to do the things that you want to do, to enjoy some time for yourself, concentrate on your education or simply spend time with your friends.

How we can help:

Here at The Fire Fighters Charity, we understand the pressures and challenges that caring for someone can present. Whilst we recognise that caring for someone you love can be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do, we also recognise the difficulties that can arise as a result of juggling so many responsibilities.

Our Welfare Caseworkers are here to provide a listening ear and practical support at a time when you need it most. They can offer:

  • Advice and guidance, including where to find help
  • Signposting and onward referrals to other support networks
  • Financial support if your family is experiencing hardship
  • Support to purchase specialist equipment to make caring easier
  • Information about welfare benefits and statutory grant funding
  • Recuperation breaks for you and your family

To find out more, give our support line a call on 0800 389 8820 and a member of our practitioner team will be happy to help.

Other organisations that can provide help:
  • The Children’s Society runs a young carers festival, and projects to support young carers
  • KIDS can put you in touch with other young carers and offer links to carers clubs, advice and information
  • Action for Children offers a series of carers clubs and young carers’ residential breaks
  • Carers UK has a 24-hour helpline service and provides links to carers’ clubs, as well as advice
  • Youth Access offers support with information and advice, as well as a youth counselling service