Having spoken to young people who care for a relative with an illness or disability, we know that many don’t realise they are young carers. This means they often don’t get the information or support available to them.
A young carer is anyone under the age of 18 who looks after a relative with a disability or illness. Their responsibilities might include extra chores around the house or providing personal or physical care to their relative. They might have to book appointments, communicate with health professionals or pick up medication on behalf of their relative.
With so much added responsibility, it’s important that young carers know where to turn to for information and support.
Four ways we can improve support for young carers
To find out what young carers need, in the last year two local Healthwatch in Leicester and North Somerset have run events and forums to listen to their experiences.
Their work identified four areas where young carers said they could be better supported:
1. Health professionals need to be aware of their needs
Young carers have told us they aren’t always listened to by health professionals and sometimes feel like they’re spoken down to. Some have also had difficulty collecting prescriptions for the relative they’re caring for, as they are under 18.
People working in health, education and social care need to be able to identify young carers, so they can take steps to help them. Better communication between GPs or pharmacies and the families of young carers could also help make health professionals more aware of the responsibilities young carers face.
2. Better information
Young carers would like to be given more information about how to help manage their relative’s condition. As many young carers are responsible for their household, they also need day to day guidance, for example knowing how to pay a utility bill.
In addition, young carers have told us they’re not always aware of the support services available to them. They would like clearer information and help by their GP to access these services.
3. Access to effective support services
Young carers have told us they can become tired, stressed and anxious, and their school work can be affected. This can make them feel isolated and impact on their mental health, but it’s not always clear where they can get support.
Support services and groups can have a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of young carers, so it’s important that they know how to access support.
4. Support at school
Schools play an important role in supporting young carers, but this support isn’t always consistent and varies across different schools. Although some young people have told us they trust and feel comfortable talking to their teachers, others have said their teachers are unsympathetic.
Young people have also told us school gives them a break from caring for their relatives. Teachers can provide wellbeing support, for example if a young person was being bullied, and act as a vital link between young carers and healthcare professionals.