Do you have students in your school or setting who care for friends or relatives? Are you concerned about their welfare, attainment or attendance as a result of a care commitment? If so, find out here how you can support young carers while they are at school.
According to the charity Carers Trust:
There are around 700,000 young carers in the UK. Furthermore, 80% miss out on childhood experiences, as they need to spend time caring for family or friends.
What is the definition of a young carer?
A young carer is anyone aged 18 or under who provides care to a friend or family member with a health problem, disability, addiction, or other vulnerability. Young carers usually look after a dependent grandparent, parent, brother or sister, and are often required to help with chores around the house, physical and emotional care, errands, administering medications, and other responsibilities. People who require care may need a significant amount of support. However, young carers can’t deliver the same level of care a professional could, and they often struggle to provide care without impacting on their own wellbeing.
Some of the difficulties young carers face include:
Poor physical and mental health. The pressures of looking after a person can cause a young carer to suffer from a poor sleeping pattern, to have an unhealthy diet, reduced physical fitness, and more frequent illnesses. This can lead to exhaustion and mental health problems such as stress and depression.
Difficulties at school. Juggling school and caring for someone can significantly impact on a young person’s education. They might turn up to school late or not at all, struggle to find time for homework and revision, and feel too stressed and tired at school to concentrate and learn. Studies show that 1 in 20 young carers miss school.
Social life. Young carers often struggle to find time for friends and social events, as they’re busy cooking, cleaning, etc. This affects their mental health and self-esteem, and can lead to social exclusion. It can even lead to bullying. A survey by Carers Trust revealed that 26% of students have been bullied at school due to their caring role.
Self-esteem. Due to the impacts on their social life and education, young carers can struggle with self-esteem and confidence. They will feel different to their peers as they may not relate to them anymore. Furthermore, they might not realise that their situation is unusual for children their age, so their struggles at school and home may make them feel incapable.
What can teachers and support staff do to support young carers at school?
The most important thing you can do to support a young carer is to be available to talk to them whenever needed. They should be assured that you are there to listen if they are having problems or feeling overwhelmed by the situation they are in, and they should feel that you will support them in any way possible. Try to have conversations privately so that if they want to open up or talk about anything, they can do so freely. In addition to this, you can:
Run awareness days
Run charity events, such as non-uniform days or bake sales to raise awareness for young carers. Share publications and host assemblies that educate students about young carers and highlights support networks, including simply talking to their teachers. Young Carers Awareness Day is held at the end of January every year, so this can be an ideal time to run your events.
Not only do these events help young carers around the country receive the help they need, but it also raises awareness in your school. It encourages young carers to approach you for support, and helps them recognise that their situation is unusual for a person their age, but also not uncommon. It shows them that they’re not alone, and that help is available.
Support their studies
Young carers will likely need support in school to keep up with their peers and get the most out of their education. You should make an effort to provide them extra help whenever they need it.
To support their studies, you could:
- Run a lunchtime catch-up class. Use this time to go through homework or any topics the student didn’t quite understand.
- Give them more leeway with deadlines, particularly when they need to provide more care than usual. It’s important to keep an ongoing dialogue with them about their needs and ensure flexibility.
- Help their parents travel to parents’ evenings if they have difficulty leaving the house.
- Allow students to use their phone during breaks and lunch to check on the person they’re caring for.
- Be sympathetic and lenient with problems, such as lateness and missed homework. Where you cannot avoid disciplinary actions, such as detention over broken rules, consider letting them take their detention during lunch. This allows them to get home on time for the person they’re caring for.
Help them access support
Most young carers won’t know that there are numerous support avenues available for them. That’s why you should educate your students about the types of support available and help them acquire support where possible.
The types of support young carers can access include:
Mental and physical health support. Help the student arrange an appointment with the school nurse and/or counsellor to discuss their issues and ways to cope with their situation. These people can also help the student find help outside of school if they need it.
Socialising with other young carers. Meeting other young carers can be an excellent way for the student to make new friends, share their experiences, rebuild their self-esteem, and have the social opportunities that children their age should have. The Children’s Society runs such social clubs and support services for young carers in many areas. Local carers centres may also do so.
A social worker from their local authority. If a young carer or their parent requests it, these workers are legally required to visit, assess the situation, and provide support to a young carer’s family if they need it. You should help young carers contact their local authority if you can. For further information, visit the Carers UK website.
Young carers who would rather contact someone on their own can call Childline on 0800 11 11. Childline offer advice and support to anyone that calls and do so confidentially. Be sure to make this number known to students, as some may not want to open up to you in school, but may pursue help on their own. Having shared the number, you will have still helped greatly.
Are you seeking SEND teaching or support work?
If you’re looking for a SEND teaching or support job in England or Wales, why not register with Axcis, the SEND recruitment specialists? Or perhaps you need to recruit staff for your school or provision? If so, why not take a look at the Axcis Website, or get in touch today to find out how we can help?