Councils are not doing enough to identify and support young people who help to care for their disabled parents, according to a survey published by Ofsted.
In November and December 2008, Ofsted inspectors visited eight council areas and met representatives from local authorities and voluntary agencies, as well as 50 young carers (37 of whom were caring for disabled parents).
The survey report, Supporting young carers, found that inconsistent joint working between councils and their partners, lack of awareness by some professionals and families’ reluctance to engage with service providers are among the key barriers in identifying and supporting young carers.
Professionals looked either at the distinct needs of the adult or the child instead of considering a package of support for the whole family
Under the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995, a carer who is aged under 16 can request a carer's assessment to see if they are eligible for benefits or practical help. This request must be granted whenever the person they care for is assessed or reassessed for community care. However, many young carers are unaware they are entitled to an assessment by their local authority and often their views are not taken on board. Professionals looked either at the distinct needs of the adult or the child instead of considering a package of support for the whole family. And only three of the 37 young carers said professionals had asked for or included their views when considering services for their disabled parents.
The councils visited believed that some families were worried that contact with social care services would lead to their parenting capacity being questioned and their family being broken up. Young people with parents who misuse substances and/or had mental health issues were the most difficult to identify, as parents were often reluctant to accept that their children were fulfilling a caring role.
The report found young carers accepted their caring responsibilities and saw them as part of normal life. They also felt their role brought them greater closeness to their parents than their peers and said their experience helped them deal with the practicalities of life at an early age.
Older children said they were frequently late or absent and had problems getting coursework completed on time
However, these caring responsibilities had a real impact on the life chances and choices of these young people. Young carers themselves highlighted concerns relating to school and college. Older children said they were frequently late or absent and had problems getting coursework completed on time. Of the 28 young carers questioned, 19 said that their schools were aware of their caring responsibilities, but nine had not told the school. A young carer said, ‘Sometimes I am late for school – they don’t remember I’m a young carer. [I] just put up with the detention.’
Young carers who attended support projects felt they were essential to their well-being and valued the opportunity to share their experiences with others in similar positions and with caring adults. A young carer said, ‘I was quite lonely and didn’t know how many people were like me’. Some support projects held awareness-raising days in schools with input from young carers. These were very effective, with five carers identified from one year group of 150 pupils and 12 young carers coming forward from another school. However, in seven out of the eight areas visited, the young carer support projects had limited capacity and half had waiting lists. In the worst case, 117 young carers were waiting between six and eight months to access the service.
The report does highlight examples of effective practice in joint working to support young carers. In one area, a meeting took place between the adult sensory impairment team, children's services and a family, following reports that two young carers were not attending school. As a result, support services for the adults were put in place which released the children to attend school.
Schools in one local authority are encouraged to sign up for the young carer's identity card scheme developed by the area’s young carers' forum, made up of a diverse group of young carers. This meant that they could avoid having to explain their home circumstances to every teacher, for example if they were late to class.
The report recommends that councils’ children's and adult services and their partners in health, education and the voluntary sector are encouraged to give greater priority to young carers and work together to deliver assessments and services that meet the needs of the whole family, thereby opening up wider life chances so that young carers can have similar experiences to others in their age range.
To read the survey report, Supporting young carers: identifying, assessing and meeting the needs of young carers and their families, visit: www.ofsted.gov.uk/publications/080252