Nearly a quarter of a million children in England and Wales are caring for a relative, new statistics show.
Census data published today reveals the number of five to seven year old young carers in England has increased by around 80% over the last decade to 9,371.
More than 50 hours of care a week
The increase means that 166,363 children in England are caring for their parents, siblings and family members. This is up by a fifth from when the last Census was conducted in 2001.
Nearly 15,000 children up to the age of 17 are providing more than 50 hours of care a week.
Long-standing illnesses and SEN
Despite this being the first official statistic to be published in ten years, it is likely to massively underrepresent the true picture, according to the Young Carers in Focus (YCiF) partnership, led by The Children’s Society and funded by the Big Lottery Fund.
The Children’s Society’s own analysis also reveals that young carers are one and a half times more likely to have a long-standing illness or disability or special educational need than their peers.
This is backed-up by the census results, which reveals that more than 2000 young carers have 'bad' or 'very bad' health.
Caring can cost children dearly
Children's Society chief executive Matthew Reed said: "Our new analysis shows that caring can cost children dearly. They are missing out on their childhoods and school, gaining fewer qualifications and therefore are less likely to earn a decent living.
"All children must be allowed to thrive and enjoy their childhoods. One young person remaining under the radar, out of sight of the very authorities there to support them, is one too many."
Key role in supporting young carers
According to the ONS (Office for National Statistics), there are 149,000 young carers aged between 15 and 19 - about twice as many as in the 10-to-14 age range.
Girls are slightly more likely to be carers than boys. Among 15-to-19-year-olds, about 5% of girls are carers and about 4% of boys.
The Children's Society is calling for more government support and recognition for these young people. A Department for Education spokeswoman responded by calling on schools to play more of a role in supporting young carers.
Opportunity to fulfil potential
"Schools have a key role in identifying and supporting young carers, she said. "We must ensure that every child has the opportunity to meet their full potential.
"We recently announced that young carers will be involved in the training of school nurses, so they know exactly what support they should offer and can champion their needs.
"We are also funding the Children's Society and Carers Trust to encourage children's and adult's services to adopt 'whole family' approaches to supporting young carers and we have created a specific training guide for teachers to help them to better identify and support young carers."
Read the full report at: www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/tcs/report_hidden-from-view_young-carers_final.pdf