The Guardian is reporting that there are 700,000 child carers in the UK, some as young as five – and the number is rising. Can schools help end the secrecy and stigma faced by vulnerable students?
“Often these children can be hidden from themselves,” explains Anna Morris, a senior policy manager at Carers Trust. “They take on these roles so young that they don’t know any different. So they don’t think of themselves as young carers. Then they’re hidden from professionals, either because of a lack of awareness or a lack of collaboration between adult and children’s services. Finally, sometimes when you have a parent-child role reversal, a family member doesn’t want to acknowledge that their child is having to care for them.”
Often the secrecy includes hiding it from friends. “A lot of it is private,” explains Becky Wise, a 16-year-old carer. “It’s about trying to maintain my family’s dignity.” Others keep their home lives hushed up for fear of being stigmatised or bullied.
Another pupil at Hampton College, 11-year-old Emma Stevens, helps care for her younger siblings as her older brother is autistic. “I don’t tell my friends that much because it will make me upset, and I just really don’t like talking about it,” she says.
The young carers at Hampton College all know each other thanks to a dedicated support group led by the school’s intervention manager, Lynda Johnson. She assists pupils with homework and champions their needs in the school: “When we started the group five years ago, we discussed whether to give it a codename so that other pupils wouldn’t know. But we decided to call it Young Carers.”
The school, an academy, is part of a programme called Young Carers in Schools, a joint initiative between Carers Trust and the Children’s Society. Potential signs such as lateness and tiredness can be spotted, and pupils are helped rather than punished. Johnson strives to swap all the secrecy and stigma with a sense of pride about what the students have managed to cope with.
Sitting in with some of them, it strikes me as a model of what can be done to support this vulnerable group. The school’s young carers know that they aren’t in this on their own, and they boost each other’s spirits. As Christian, another young carer notes, caregiving can be a good thing, when properly supported. “At the end of the day, you know you’ve helped them,” he says. “You know you’ve made a difference.”
Does your school have any services available to help young carers? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter. ~ Sophie
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