It is estimated there are around 700,000 young carers in the UK. Despite the high number of children and young people looking after their loved one, it can be difficult to find support as a young carer. This Young Carers Awareness Day, what more needs to be done?
In the UK a young carer is someone who is under 18 and helps to look after a family member, or a friend, who is ill, disabled or misuses drugs or alcohol.
Being a young carer is extremely rewarding, but it is important to look after yourself, too. Isla, who is 19, and Jennifer, who is 16, have both been young carers for many years.
Young carers’ responsibilities vary depending on who they care for. Isla cares for her Nana who has anxiety and depression, making sure she eats, drinks, takes her medication and is able to leave the house.
Isla is currently a bakery student at college and balances her time between her work and her caring role. She is also a group leader at East Ayrshire Young Carers, giving her the chance to support other young people in a similar situation to herself.
In her penultimate year of high school, Jennifer is a young carer for her two younger brothers who both have level three severe autism.
Being a young carer teaches you skills that your peers might not have while looking after your loved one.
As over a third of young carers aged between 11 and 18 in the UK feel that giving up their time to care for someone impacts on their mental health, it is vital that they receive the right guidance.
Explaining what a young carer is and what kind of responsibilities you have as a young carer can help your friends to understand and combat any feelings of loneliness.
“It can impact a lot on my social life and sometimes it makes me feel like I’m alone, even though I know I’m not,” adds Isla. “I’m very lucky to have friends who understand.”
Although Jennifer finds that her friends sometimes don’t fully understand her caring responsibilities, she knows she can be open about them at Edinburgh Young Carers, a respite group with young carers in a similar position.
“[It] is a respite group with other young carers to have a break from home and spend time with friends who are in similar situations like myself,” enthuses Jennifer.
“The staff are very polite and sweet, you can have one-to-one talks with them about anything you would like to get off your chest or need help with.”
Jennifer also attends a youth music club where she has singing lessons and spends time with friends, along with a multicultural family base group. With this group, Jennifer is supported in her young caring role.
Along with being a group leader at East Ayrshire Young Carers, Isla also has the opportunity to relax and chat to other leaders about her caring responsibilities and life in general.
“We also go away on respite once or twice a year depending on what’s available,” explains Isla. “It’s just a week or so to relax and not have to worry about our caring role.”
The assistance available for other young carers is something that both Isla and Jennifer want to see improve. In the future Jennifer would like to see more education for teachers and other young people to give them a better understanding of what a young carer is.
With hopes to study criminal psychology at university, Jennifer also wants to see an improved application system for young carers who wish to go into higher education.
“Entry requirements are very specific and hard to achieve,” explains Jennifer. “For someone like me who strives to be a higher achiever but somehow doesn’t make it, it is really frustrating.”
Isla also wants to see more support for young carers under the age of 16, like she has had from her carers group. Currently, young carers have to be 16 to apply for Carer’s Allowance: financial support for young carers who spend at least 35 hours a week in their caring position.
Through awareness and improved information on the vital work young carers do, carers have the chance to be greater supported.
Young Carers Awareness Day (YCAD) is an opportunity to teach people of all ages about the role of young carers. This year, YCAD will take place on 30 January. It is a way to celebrate young carers and the amazing work they do to help their loved ones.
“It’s a day dedicated to us, it’s a day we should be speaking out and telling our stories on,” recommends Isla. “These days are big for us to try and band together.”
Days like this are vital for raising awareness of what being a young carer is about, and how many young people in the UK are in a caring role.
“It’s a wonderful time to spend moments with friends and family, get to know each other’s stories since everyone has a story, and I think it’s nice to communicate and understand each other,” explains Jennifer.
This YCAD take time to find out about the support you are entitled to as a young carer or to share your story to support others and the loved ones you care for.
Carers Trust organise Young Carers Awareness Day every year, visit the website to find out more.