From the outside, Chloe might seem like any other teenager, but dig a little deeper and you will find she is very different from your normal 12-year-old.
Like 175,000 young people in the UK, Chloe is a young carer. Her mum, Kelly, has arthritis and fibromyalgia, meaning she struggles with mobility and will one day have to use a wheelchair to get around. This means Chloe has had to take on many tasks around the house which someone of her age would not normally be expected to do.
Life has got a lot better for her and her family since Family Action’s Young Carers Service became involved. Her mum has a carer who comes to the house to help out during the day which takes some of the pressure off Chloe. Whereas before Chloe felt that she could not open up about any problems, she has her very own support worker who she can talk to about any worries she may have in a safe environment.
They are much closer as a family and Chloe can enjoy a more normal life than she could before. She now has the chance to take a break from her caring role; attending days out and activities organised by the Young Carers Service.
She has also met other young carers like her who understand what life is like so she no longer feels as isolated and has developed new friendships.
But what is life really like for a young carer and what can schools do to help support them? Here, in her own words, Chloe gives us an insight into in her life and talks about what her school (Garibaldi College in Nottinghamshire) is doing to make sure she gets the help and support she needs.
“My mum used to be really active and do loads of stuff with us, but then she got ill and can’t really do as much anymore. This means that I need to do a lot of chores around the house and help out with my little brother and sister as my mum can’t do as much as she did before.
“Every morning before school I wake up early so I can get my little brother and sister up and out of bed. I make sure they get showered and dressed, and then make them their breakfast. While they are eating, I unload the dishes from dishwasher, put them away, then fill it up with any dirty ones. Once that’s done I empty the washing machine and hang the clothes out to dry and put a new load on.
“Once I’ve got all of those jobs done, I go up and help my mum get out of bed. Because of her illness she can’t do this by herself, so needs my help.
“When everyone is ready and dressed I make sure my brother and sister both have everything they need and that they get picked-up for school. Sometimes doing all of this can make me late for school, which used to mean that I got into trouble a lot.
“Sometimes the jobs that I need to do in the morning take a bit longer so we leave the house late, but they need to be done. So it can be upsetting when I’m late and it’s not my fault.
“When I get home from school I tidy up around the house. If the house needs to be cleaned, I do the vacuuming and dusting, load any dishes into the dishwasher and empty the washing that I put on before I left for school.
“When my little brother and sister have had their dinner and I’ve helped them do any of their homework, I get them ready for bed. Once I’ve tucked them in and they are asleep, that’s when I get time to myself.
“The chores that I need to do around the house means I don’t have a lot of time to do things like homework. Before my school knew that I was a young carer, I used to get in trouble because they didn’t understand what was happening at home. I can’t really spend a lot of time with my friends either, because I can’t really leave my mum on her own in case she needs anything.
“My mum’s illness means she has bad days and good days. If she is having a bad day, I worry about her a lot. Because I spend so much time worrying it means that sometimes I can’t concentrate in class, so my school work does suffer a little bit.
How can schools help?
“Before my school knew that I was as young carer I used to get into trouble a lot for not getting my homework done on time or being late because of my responsibilities at home. But now they understand, it’s a lot easier.
“I think that it’s really important that schools know if there are young carers in their school and give them the support they need.
“Some teachers don’t understand the pressure we can be under, caring for family members who are unwell and taking on extra responsibilities can put us under a lot of stress.
“Having responsibilities that other people my age don’t usually have has a big impact on school. I worry about my mum a lot so sometimes find it hard to concentrate and if there are problems getting my brother and sister ready, this means that I can be late.
“Since my school found out that I’m a young carer, things have gotten a lot better. Mrs Pearson looks after me, she is our attendance manager.
“So if people are off a lot or late, she finds out if there is a problem and tries to fix it. Now if I’m late I tell them my name and they understand that there is a good reason why and I don’t get into trouble.
“If I haven’t had time to do some of my homework I explain to Mrs Pearson why and I am allowed extra time to complete it. This has helped a lot, because I don’t feel like I’m under as much pressure.”
The Be Bothered campaign
Chloe is not alone in how she feels. A lot of the young carers that use Family Action services tell us similar things. Being a carer can have a considerable impact on a young person’s school life, on their behaviour, attendance and concentration.
These issues can sometimes lead to young carers being punished by teachers for issues relating to their caring role of which teachers are not aware. It can lead to young carers being unable to socialise with people their own age, as they feel no-one will understand what they are going through.
Our Be Bothered! campaign aims to change this, ensuring the voices of young carers are heard, and raising awareness among school leaders and teachers. Our recent report, Be Bothered! Make Education Count for Young Carers, highlights the problems young carers face in school. It found a number of issues that many young carers are presented with and revealed that many of them do not feel supported at school.
Young carers, parents and teachers all feel that if young carers are able to disclose their caring role to school then they will be more supported. However, many of them find it difficult to talk about their situation and may not disclose their caring responsibilities due to a lack of trust in teachers, or the fear of statutory agencies intervening at home, or even bullying.
Tackling problems young carers face in schools, could help reduce unexplained absence and improve behaviour and disruption in the classroom.
The aim of this campaign is to raise awareness of the issue of young carers and highlight ways that schools can help and support them. Family Action has made a set of practical and policy recommendations to schools, local authorities and government based on the experiences of the young carers services we work with.
But more can be done around identification of young carers and Family Action is calling on the government to make this happen. We are lobbying for an amendment to the Children and Families Bill calling for duties on schools in respect of the identification and support of young carers in education. As this amendment moves through the stages we will be speaking to MPs and Lords encouraging them to support it.
Be Bothered campaign aims:
Family ActionFamily Action works with young carers across the country, supporting them through a mix of practical and emotional support, working with the family to alleviate the young carers’ responsibilities, as well as providing respite in the form of group activities and away days with other young carers. Visit www.family-action.org.uk and for more on the Be Bothered campaign, visit www.family-action.org.uk/bebothered
Schools should work with local young carers services to raise awareness of young carers among staff and pupils in school, with Pupil Premium data used to help identify and target support for vulnerable pupils.
Schools should adopt policies and procedures to identify young carers and provide packages of support. For example, creating young carers champions, having counselling available, regular liaison with parents, intensive family support to address serious attendance and behaviour issues, and support for young carer peer networks at school.
Those taking over academies or setting up free schools should have to show how they will identify and support vulnerable, children including young carers.
Local authorities and the young carers services they commission should work to improve partnership working with schools in their area to raise awareness of young carers and improve links so that young carers and their parents can be better supported in and outside the classroom.
Government should strengthen guidance to ensure that all vulnerable pupils, including young carers, are supported in school.
Government should introduce a duty in the Children and Families Bill on schools to identify and assess vulnerable pupils and provide adequate support.
Rhian Beynon is head of policy and campaigns at the charity Family Action, which runs the Be Bothered Campaign.
CAPTION: Supported: Young carer Chloe is pictured with Jayne Pearson, the attendance manager at Garibaldi College, at a recent Be Bothered campaign event