Danny is 16 years old and a young adult carer who looks after his mum and cousin. He has been a carer for a year and it changed his life overnight.
Before, he could go out with his friends most days. Now, he often can’t go out because he has to help his mum, make the dinner and tidy up, and make sure his mum takes her medicine. He also cooks dinner for his cousin who is blind but Danny doesn’t always find cooking very easy.
Danny does all of this out of love, not duty. When people ask him: ‘If you had the chance not to be a young carer would you?’ he always replies: “No, because it’s a fab bond between me and my mum and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
700,000 young carers in the UK alone
And Danny is not the only child caring for a family member while juggling the demands of school work.
According to the Children’s Society, there are an estimated 700,000 young carers in the UK – about one in 12 secondary aged pupils. That means there are likely to be young carers in every school and college. And the number is rising.
Today (January 25) is Young Carers Awareness Day, a national day of recognition for the frighteningly large number of youngsters who work around the clock providing care and support to a family member who is physically or mentally ill, disabled or misuses alcohol and/or drugs.
“This year, Young Carers Awareness Day aims to highlight the shocking amount of children under the age of ten who are performing caring duties at home,” says Giles Meyer, chief executive at the Carers Trust, which works to improve support, services and recognition for the seven million unpaid carers in the UK.
“The ultimate aim of Young Carers Awareness Day is to make clear to all the urgent need for society, professionals and individuals to help identify and provide support for Britain’s youngest young carers.
“Part of our overall mission at Carers Trust is to improve support, services and recognition for young carers living with the challenges of caring, unpaid, for a family member or friend who is ill, frail, disabled or has mental health or addiction problems.
“Young Carers Awareness Day is a step towards achieving that goal,” he adds. “Our vision is of a world where young carers have access to the trusted quality support and services they need to live fulfilled lives.”
Balancing responsibilities with education
Being a young carer can have a big impact on the things that are important to growing up. It can affect the young person’s health, social life and self-confidence, as well as often causing many young carers to struggle to balance their education and their caring responsibilities.
In a survey, 39 per cent said that nobody at school was aware of their caring role and 26 per cent had experienced bullying at school. One in 20 young carers miss school because of their caring responsibilities. This all contributes towards them not realising their full potential or achieving their dream career.
“Across the UK children under the age of eight are caring for parents with mental health issues, who misuse substances or have a terminal illness," says Meyer. "It’s simply not acceptable for children who have barely started school to be handling issues that many adults would struggle to cope with.
“These young carers are crying out for help and support, yet once they have been identified, the services in place to support them say still more needs to be done.
"They need more funding for staff, and more transport and free activities so they can provide respite. It is also crucial for closer working of adult and children’s services to support the whole families’ needs so young carers don’t continue to go unnoticed and unrecognised.”