The responsibility of being a young carer is often underestimated but can have a devastating impact on a child or young person’s quality of life, said Christine Slatcher from the Children’s Society.
About a third of all young carers care for a person with mental illness, she added.
She implored school nurses to understand not just the emotional effects of caring, such as feelings of isolation, but the fact their caring responsibilities often result in little spare time to study. This means young carers are often low achievers and perform badly in exams, which often impacts upon their adult life.
On a physical level young carers are often more prone themselves to injury or illness, as well as at an increased risk of being targeted by bullies. Teachers will often mistakenly tag them as displaying “problem behaviours” simply because the impact of their caring responsibilities is either not recognised or is misunderstood.
She introduced a young carer called Lauren, who recently attended the Department of Health to help train and advise school nurses wishing to be school nurse carer champions.
Lauren gave a moving and insightful account of her own experiences as a young carer. She revealed that without the support of her project worker Ed, she wouldn’t be here today.
“My mum was a big pain in the arse,” she admitted. “My project worker Ed saved my life.”
She told school nurses that listening in a non-judgemental way is the key to understanding the support a young carer needs. Some carers work a 40 to 50 hour week, on top of their school day, she said. She explained how sometimes the worry about how things were at home meant she couldn’t concentrate on her school work, and this would have been eased by being given the opportunity to call home.
Often young carers look after younger siblings, so she called for wide recognition that they can be an “expert” in their care. She said it was vital they should not be dismissed by staff when accompanying their sibling to a doctor’s appointment, or needing to pick up a prescription.
Slatcher ended by saying it was vital that once a young carer has been identified that the whole family is offered support.
For more information on how the Children’s Society helps Young Carers visit http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/young-carers