A snapshot survey released by charity Carers Trust today reveals a high proportion of infant young carers surveyed by the charity are regularly suffering from broken sleep to help look after unwell family members.

The UK’s largest charity for unpaid carers has revealed the snapshot data today on Young Carers Awareness Day in order to highlight the shocking amount 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 perform unpaid caring duties, with the most recent Census in 2011 finding a shocking 83% increase in the amount 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 says:

“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.

“Carers Trust knows that many young carers in the UK are not on the radar of support services, going unnoticed and unrecognised in their plight. Yet even once young carers have been identified, our Network Partner Managers across the country say much more needs to be done in order to ensure they are able to deliver the right level of tangible support to families as a whole. 

“Funding and resources for 1-1 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.

“It is critical that society pulls together now to help these children who are so young, yet who carry such a heavy weight on their shoulders.”

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 all those in society including 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.

“The young carers I have met spend hours doing important tasks like shopping, cooking and cleaning, willingly and without complaint. Too often though they are having to cope alone. We should have systems in place to identify and to support them when they need it most.”

Despite the recent surge in the number of young carers under eight years in the UK, there remains a minimal number of services and support groups available for this younger age group of carers due to a lack of awareness of this issue and funding.

In an attempt to combat this issue, Carers Trust has set up a Text To Give service whereby members of the public can 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.

Lottie Fox, now aged 22, helped her parents to care for her little brother because he needs round-the-clock care. Lottie’s brother Harvey, now aged 19 years, has the mental age of a 9-month-old baby, because of a condition called Angelman Syndrome.

Lottie says:

“Being a young carer has just always been a part of my growing up. My brother has always had to be looked-after 24-hours-a-day. He can never be left in a room by himself, and there are many things he can’t do, and my parents can’t do, simply because of the constant level of care needed.”

As well as telling her powerful personal story in the animation, artist Lottie, has also produced a sculpture shaped as a tall, heavy person, to represent the heavy burden of responsibility she grew up with as a young carer – symbolising a loveable figure who you care for, despite the weight of responsibility it brings.

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.”