It has been estimated that there are 700,000 young carers in the UK, with 13,000 carrying out more than 50 hours of work a week. However, providing unpaid support and assistance to their families can have a huge negative impact on the lives of these youngsters, resulting in emotional and physical health problems and poorer results at school. The burden of such responsibility results in many of them being absent from school, ending up late or having to leave early. On average, a half a day per two weeks was missed.
As part of a wider research project on young adult carers and their views of higher and further education and employment, the Carers Trust commissioned Nottingham University to conduct an online survey to record the particular challenges they face.
Young Adult Carers at School: Experiences and Perceptions of Caring and Education, collated the responses of 295 young carers, aged between 14 and 24. Although 9.3 may be the average age for caring duties, some respondents said they had been doing it for as long as they could remember, so many would have started at an even younger age.
Two-thirds of respondents who were still at school provided a very high level of care. Just over half (53%) cared for mothers, but only 8% for fathers. A total of 66% cared for one person, although 13% cared for three or more. The most common disability was physical, followed by terminal illness and mental health issues.
Despite these levels of responsibility, only half had received additional support from a member of staff at school - 42% said there was not a particular person who recognised them as a carer and helped them. In fact, a quarter were bullied because of it.
On top of all that responsibility, 38% reported having a mental health problem and 12% had a physical disability themselves, yet only 15% had had a formal assessment of their needs. Although many young carers said they intended to go onto further or higher education, they predicted difficulties.
Researchers concluded that far more needs to be done in schools to help them achieve their goals. By monitoring young carers and carrying out regular assessments, their attendance and educational needs can be taken into account and appropriate action taken. This also applies to GPs and other health professionals, given the high level of mental health and other problems experienced.