There is no consensus for defining a young carer, but the following provided in a survey carried out by the Office for National Statistics on behalf of the Department of Health in 1996 is a useful starting point:
'... a child or a young person who is carrying out significant caring tasks and assuming a level of responsibility for another person which would usually be taken by an adult. The term refers to ... young people under 18 years caring for adults ... or occasionally siblings ... [not those under 18 caring for their own children]. Nor does the term refer to those children who accept an age appropriate role in taking an increasing responsibility for household tasks in homes with a disabled, sick or mentally ill parent.'
In 1996, it was estimated that there were 51,000 young carers in the UK, but estimates from a study from the Children Society released in May 2003 suggest that this may be as high as 149,000.
Identification of young carers can be difficult because of lack of communication between referral bodies or because young carers and their families do not want to be identified.
Schools are not currently required to collate data on children and young people with caring responsibilities.
The National Strategy for Young Carers recognises schools as playing a key role in identifying young carers but Local Education Authorities, schools and teachers are often unaware of issues related to caring.
Community Care Assessors can only let schools know about Young Carers with consent. There is often a lack of communication between Adult and Child Social Services.
The Department has responsibility for policies that support young carers gaining an education; Circular 10/99 gives advice on leave of absence and staff responsibility for young carers
The Government set up a Young Carers Forum in July 2001. This is chaired by a DfES Minister and includes DfES officials, members of the House of Lords and representatives of voluntary organisations. Its role is to develop a strategy to tackle referral, pastoral and academic issues in schools so that suitable full-time education is provided to young carers. The Department is working with LEAs and other agencies to address the difficulties involved in identifying and supporting Young Carers. It has endorsed the guidance drafted by Carers UK and is considering adding link references on the DfES good practice website.
Young carers can receive help from both local and health authorities. Where a child is providing a substantial amount of care on a regular basis for a parent, the child will be entitled to an assessment of their ability to care under section 1 of the Carers Act 1995 and the local authority must take this assessment into account in deciding what community care services to provide for the parents. In addition, consideration must be given as to whether a young carer is a child in need under the Children Act 1989.
The central issue is whether a child's welfare or development might suffer if support is not provided to the child or family. As part of the National Strategy for Carers (1999a), local authorities should take steps to identify children with additional family burdens.
Since April 2003, all LEAs have access to the Vulnerable Children Grant worth a total of £84 million for 2003/04 and 2004/05 This grant allows LEAs to provide high quality education for those unable to attend school or whose circumstances make it difficult for them to do so; to support attendance, integration or reintegration into school particularly for those who have been missing from education for a significant period of time; and to provide additional educational support to enable vulnerable children to achieve their potential.
The main focus of the grant is on school-aged children but this does not limit local education authorities from taking a wider view and supporting children aged 0-19 years. The key groups are looked after children, children who are unable to attend school because of medical needs, Gypsy/Traveller children, asylum seekers, young carers, school refusers, teenage parents and the reintegration of young offenders.
The Behaviour and Education Support Teams (BESTs) are multi agency teams working with children and young people aged 5-18 to prevent and intervene early to address emotional and behavioural problems, and involve and support their families.
BEST work in partnership with schools and the community to promote emotional well being, positive mental health, positive behaviour and school attendance and help in the identification and support of those with, or at risk of developing emotional and behavioural problems.
Direct online support is available through the Princess Royal Trust for Carers young carers' website, with supervised chat rooms and message boards.