Young Carers

“A young carer is someone aged 18 or under who helps look after a relative who has a condition, such as a disability, illness, mental health condition, or a drug or alcohol problem.” (NHS)

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Young Carers and Education

Young carers have often been an overlooked group and within my own profession as an educational psychologist, there has been a dearth of research about the impact of ‘caring’ on education.

For this reason, I am particularly pleased to read the research published by the Department for Education (DfE) this week on ‘The lives of young carers in EnglandOmnibus Survey Report by Kantar Public in conjunction with the Young Carers Research Group.

The Lives of Young Carers in England

The research report presents findings from a survey of parents of young carers and where possible, young carers themselves aged 11 to 17.

The survey collated information about:  

  • The nature of care and the support that young carers are providing
  • Their perceived impact of their caring responsibilities on their own physical and mental health, education and development
  • The types of support they are receiving.

The research resonated with me as many of the themes identified in this current research were reported in my own doctoral research ('A Case Study of the Perceptions of Young Carers based on their High School Experiences.' Unpublished doctoral research. University of Manchester) in 2010.

Having revisited my doctoral findings, it is clear that there is still much work to be done in raising awareness of the social, emotional and educational needs of young carers. In reality there are many ways in which schools can further support young carers. Young carers who participated in my doctoral research shared the following views on how schools could be more supportive of young carers.

Emotional support from adults

Young carers emphasised the importance of having someone to talk to and to share problems with. They valued having access to a trusted adult in order to gain support since they thought it was not good to ‘bottle feelings up’.

Emotional support from peers

Young carers found it helpful to talk to peers who were experiencing similar issues. Friendships were perceived to be important since they valued ‘time out’ from caring responsibilities and they wanted ‘time to be a kid’.

Support with school work

Young carers wanted access to additional support in lessons to help with school work and help to catch-up with work missed due to poor attendance.

Support with homework

Including more time to complete homework, more flexibility from teachers with deadlines, and homework clubs at dinner times.

Access to extra-curricular opportunities

At dinner times rather than after school.

Support for parents

To access information shared at parents evening e.g. home visit option or telephone call.

Support for attendance and punctuality

Including having a ‘late pass’ for young carers so that they don’t get detentions for lateness; starting school at a later time to accommodate carers who have responsibilities in the morning; and help with transport to school.

Have permission to contact home

During the school day to alleviate a lot of young carers’ fears.

Support with bullying

Young carers wanted more effective ways of tackling bullying since they felt that current school systems did not deter bullies.

Changing teachers’ attitudes

Young carers wanted a less judgemental and more understanding approach from teachers. Young carers stressed that they wanted teachers to be more aware of the pressures they faced in terms of coping with school work and managing caring responsibilities at home.

A more proactive response from school staff

To ensure that appropriate support is available for young carers.

Raise awareness of young carers

With pupils and school staff through whole school initiatives such as assemblies and the PSHE curriculum.

My research highlighted that the experiences of young carers vary immensely and they cannot be treated as a singular group. It is clear that the impact of caring for someone varies from person to person; some young carers in my research appeared to experience minimal educational difficulties and reported receiving sufficient support from school staff, whereas other described very difficult experiences of school and felt unsupported.

There are many ways that educational psychologists (EPs) can support young carers. Not least, in helping schools to identify and enhance resilience factors in young carers’ lives. A positive school experience has been identified as an important extrinsic factor that contributes to resilience and EPs are well placed to support positive change in education and schooling.

If you would like advice on supporting a young carer in your school, please contact Dr Sarah McIntosh, Senior EP on 0844 967 1111.

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