'I feel like I’m drowning' – young carers face lack of in-school support

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

"It’s harder than anyone understands and I feel like I’m drowning.” There has been a steep rise in the time young carers spend looking after family members, yet more than half say they receive little to no support from their school.

There has been a steep rise in the time young carers spend looking after family members, yet more than half say they receive little to no support from their school.

A warning has been issued by the Carers Trust after new research found that many young carers, such as the young person quoted above, feel stressed, lonely, and anxious.

A third (36%) of young carers report caring for 20 to 49 hours a week, with 14% caring for 50-plus hours a week.

The study involved almost 600 UK young carers and young adult carers aged 12 to 25 and found that 53% said the amount of time they spend caring per week has increased in the past year.

The pandemic has exacerbated the situation for many young carers as essential services were closed during lockdown or difficult to access.

It is estimated that there are as many as 800,000 young carers aged 11 to 16 in England, this according to research from the University of Nottingham and the BBC in September 2018.

And the new study found that young people’s caring role resulted in them either feeling “worried” (36%), “lonely” (33%), and/or “stressed” (42%).

However, most concerning is the lack of in-school support the young carers in the study report: 40% said they “never” or “not often” had someone to talk to at school about being a young carer, while 52% said they “never” or “not often” got support from their school, college, or university to help them balance study with their caring role.

The study confirmed that many schools are working to identify and support their young carers, with 34% of young carers in the survey saying that their school understood their caring role.

However, the fact remains that for too many, the support is not there. Comments from young carers in the study revealed some of the difficulties they face from their schools:

  • “They don't understand when I'm late arriving to school – my mum can't get up most mornings.”
  • “My school doesn't care that I'm a young carer, they force me to come to school even when I've been up all night looking after (the person I care for). I am so burned out.”
  • “We have a no phones rule which makes it difficult to keep in contact if needed.”
  • “Teachers don’t understand why I have to check my phone, or I’m distracted in school.”
  • “School don’t often understand the complexity and how draining caring can really be.”

Elsewhere in the study, 47% of the young carers said they felt less connected to others, 46% said their education was suffering, and 44% said their mental health is worse.

The report advises: “Having a dedicated student carer support policy which takes account of reasons behind lateness, absences, late or missing homework or coursework, and mobile phone usage, would all support young carers and young adult carers.

“This could include offering space in school to do homework, prioritised use of the library for college and university students, flexible deadlines, adding young adult carers to bursary criteria, and allowing appropriate mobile phone usage.”

Local authorities have a statutory duty to identify and support young carers, including with funded support packages which help young carers and their families. The Carers Trust now wants to see better monitoring of this duty.
It is also urging schools to take a more “integrated and collaborative approach”, including working with health services, local authorities, and local carer organisations.

Further reading from SecEd: Five ways to help your school’s young carers – some expert and practical advice for secondary schools from Dr Pooky Knightsmith: Read this 2019 article here.

Carers Trust CEO, Kirsty McHugh, said the findings were “stark”. She continued: “Too many are left unsupported, struggling to access the services they need with knock-on effects to their education, mental health, and wellbeing.

“We need more investment in social care generally and local care organisations specifically to relieve young carers of the overwhelming pressure so many are under. In addition, the NHS must ensure its mental health services prioritise young carer support. Otherwise young carers will continue to be left alone to cope with complex problems and responsibilities that would overwhelm most adults, let alone young people.”
Carers Trust is a charity which works to improve support, services and recognition for anyone living with the challenges of caring, unpaid, for a family member or friend.

  • Carers Trust: It’s harder than anyone understands, March 2022: https://bit.ly/3quitYu
  • University of Nottingham: New research suggests more than one in five children in England carry out some care for sick and disabled family members, September 2018: https://bit.ly/3knDSPp


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