The UK’s largest charity for unpaid carers carried out a snapshot survey of the UK’s youngest carers which is revealed on Young Carers Awareness Day to highlight the shocking number of children between the ages of five and ten who undertake extensive caring duties at home and especially at night.
There are now nearly 10,000 young carers under the age of eight in England and Wales who carry out unpaid care, with the most recent Census in 2011 finding a shocking 83% increase in the number of young carers aged 5-7 since 2001.
Whilst the sharp rise in the number of very young, young carers indicates that more young carers are being identified, Carers Trust maintains this number is likely to be the tip of the iceberg, as many young carers remain ‘invisible’ - hidden from support services and with schools often unaware of their existence.
Carers Trust CEO Giles Meyer said:
“The findings from our survey reveal a harsh reality for the very youngest young carers in the UK today, almost half of whom are regularly being required to get up during the night in order to look after their unwell family members.
“It is a tragic situation that children who have barely started school are losing sleep which is so significant to their development, and in the night-time, being exposed to and handling issues such as their siblings or parents’ panic attacks or epileptic seizures when they should be getting important rest.
“Funding and resources for one-to-one counselling sessions for children for example, and giving families the option of young carers attending respite and activity days away from the pressures of home make a huge difference to lift the pressure within families in these circumstances.”
Carers Trust’s snapshot survey of this hard-to-reach demographic reveals that:
- 46% are getting up in the night to care for loved ones, missing out on their own sleep.
- More than 80% are carrying out caring duties every day or most days of the week.
- One in ten young carers go the shops unaccompanied to buy essentials for the family.
- Three quarters of these children are providing emotional support by cheering up family members when they are sad.
Carers Trust is calling on politicians, teachers and health and social care professionals, to understand and spot the signs of young carers and urgently prioritise their identification and support for them and their families.
Anne Longfield, the Children's Commissioner for England, said:
"Young Carers Awareness Day shines a light on the lives of many thousands of young carers looking after siblings or parents. The contribution young carers make to others every day is remarkable. Yet it is still the case that far too many are not even being identified, and those who are simply do not receive the help they need.
“We know the pressures on these often very vulnerable children are enormous and the impact on their own education and welfare can be significant. There needs to be better peer support networks and we need to make sure local authorities have the resources needed to work more closely with primary and secondary schools to identify and refer potential cases as early as possible.”
To help combat this issue, Carers Trust has set up a Text to Give number for members of the public. Please text YCAD18 £5 or £10 to 70070 to donate to Carers Trust.
Carer Trust has released a short animation to mark Young Carers Awareness Day. Narrated by young carer Lottie, it is based on her own true-life, personal experience of growing up as an infant young carer who from the age of three, looked after her brother with severe health issues.
Chris Styles, Strategy Director of Life Story, who created the animation, said: "Talking to Lottie first-hand about her experiences brought home to us how extraordinary she, and countless other young carers just like her, are. It has been a privilege for us to help tell her story.”