Helping young carers

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Amanda Bostock discusses how her school has changed its practices to ensure that it offers full support to its young carers.

Although many schools have support services in place to aid the learning of vulnerable students, it is becoming increasingly important for schools to also offer social and behavioural support to make sure nothing stands in the way of young people achieving their full potential.

We have a Social Inclusion Team operating at George Spencer Academy, which specialises in providing emotional support to ensure that children feel happy and supported in order for them to achieve their full potential.

Recently we have focused on developing more individualised support for young carers in the school. A young carer is a young person aged between five and 18 who cares for a parent or sibling with a physical or mental health difficulty or a parent with substance misuse.

Young carers can experience problems with attendance, behaviour or concentration in class and offering them the right support can really make a difference.

With BBC research suggesting that one in 12 secondary school pupils could have a caring role, and with many students reluctant to admit to being a young carer, it is vital that schools recognise the support needs of this vulnerable group.

When one of the students in our school was identified as being a young carer I realised there were gaps in my skills and knowledge that I needed to tackle.

So we started working with Family Action, a national charity that works with disadvantaged and vulnerable families and children. In Nottinghamshire, they are commissioned by the local authority to provide a young carers service. Backed up by Nottinghamshire County Council’s Young Carers Strategy, Family Action has introduced a Quality Standard which encourages schools to understand the issues faced by young carers and have effective mechanisms in place to identify and support them in school.

The Quality Standard aids schools to become centres of excellence in supporting young carers. This involves showing a significant improvement in targeting and supporting potentially vulnerable young carers, and presenting evidence of this.

As part of my professional development I took on the lead responsibility for young carers in our school undertaking training with Family Action to raise awareness about young carers, working with students and teaching staff to help us to develop a young carer policy outlining the most effective way to support our young people.

Now our young carer’s policy is in place at George Spencer, we feel confident that we provide each young carer with appropriate individualised support. 

There are particular identifying factors related to being a young carer that school staff can look out for which may include attendance concerns, underachievement, difficulties with homework, emotional health and wellbeing indicators, lack of parental engagement with school, and a reluctance to talk about home life.

After identifying the young carer, we evaluate the impact and nature of their caring role using specific young carer’s assessment tools. Our aim is to build a relationship with the young carer, offering emotional support in one-on-one meetings, discussing the caring role with them, providing information on the illness of the parent, and closely monitoring their academic achievement. 

We can also refer the young carer to an outside support provider if they wish, where they can address issues such as self-esteem and coping with their caring role. Other options include group sessions and working with our local young carer support service in school. 

We empower staff to work in a young carer-friendly manner by delivering training, so they are made aware of the demands placed on young carers and how to support them in a sensitive way. We also promote discussion and learning in all areas of the curriculum to improve understanding of, and respect for, issues surrounding illness, disability and caring. This will hopefully increase the support young carers get from both their teachers and peers.

In making sure young carers have equal access to education we provide them with reasonable allowances. Our technology policy allows our students to use mobile phones during break and lunchtimes so they can be in contact with their family and they are given permission to use a school phone when necessary. 

We also offer negotiable deadlines, arrangements for school work to be sent home in a crisis, and the option for lunchtime detention rather than after-school detention when possible. We try to work with parents in providing alternative communication options when they are unable to visit the school and we can refer them to a local support worker if they wish. More generally we make sure our young carers have access to all available support services at school. 

We hold forums to discuss our work with some of our young carers to make sure their voices are heard, most notably when we were developing the policy, as they generally have a clear idea how we can best help them and it ensures it is tailored to pupils’ needs. 

One of the important things the young carers have stressed is that raising awareness and sharing information about their role among staff and other students’ needs to be done according to the wishes of the young person, as some are more comfortable with their sensitive information being shared than others. 

In the future we hope to identify even more young carers as early as possible by organising assemblies, advertising our work on the school intranet, and offering drop-in sessions for students to come in and discuss their caring role with us. 

We also have a transition programme in place with our primary schools, which provides us with important information about our incoming students. Our aim is to work even more closely with primary schools in future so they can inform us of young carers joining our school. 

Even if your school is not equipped with a Social Inclusion Team, there are easy steps you can take in making sure the right support is offered to young carers. Small changes can make a big difference for their education. 

If you feel, like I did, that your school might not have sufficient support in place, try contacting a local young carer service for help or guidance. There are also resources available online that can assist with writing and implementing a policy and Family Action has been a great help in providing training and guidance.

  • Amanda Bostock is an inclusion caseworker at George Spencer Academy in Nottinghamshire.

Further information
Family Action provides services to disadvantaged and socially isolated families. It works with 45,000 children and families a year. For details about its work in schools and its Be Bothered! Campaign, visit www.family-action.org.uk/bebothered


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