Schools must look after young carers

Young carers need to be given more support at school, a new report says. Produced by Family Action, the study noted combating the problems faced by these individuals - people between the age of five and 24 who care for relatives with mental or physical difficulties - is not only good for them and their families, but also beneficial for schools.

According to the report, the futures of young carers could be placed at risk if they are not given the help they need at school.

It was pointed out that teachers often fail to understand the problems faced by these individuals and are punishing them for their poor attendance, punctuality and behaviour.

Family Action has therefore launched a campaign entitled Be Bothered!, which is calling for more support to be given to this vulnerable group.

Helen Dent, chief executive of the organisation, noted caring roles for these people do not stop at the school gate, adding the government should support, rather than stigmatise, those who skip class for their caring duties.

Ms Dent stated: "Being bothered about young carers in schools means everyone working together ... to make sure the right support is in place for young carers and their parents."

Chartered Psychologist Dr Michael Hymans writes:

Most young carers are not known to be caring by school staff, so being a young carer can be a hidden cause of poor attendance, under achievement and bullying, with many young carers dropping out of school or achieving no qualifications. There are some simple and inexpensive steps that all schools can take in order to ensure that young carers don’t place their education in second place to their caring responsibilities.  

Most children affected by family disability, health problems or substance misuse do not become young carers and it is important to be wary of making assumptions about people with disabilities or other health issues and labelling young people or their parents. Support for young carers and their families should always aim to strengthen families and support parenting.

Suggested Interventions: School enrolment process for new pupils should attempt to establish if the pupil has parents with disabilities or long-term physical or mental health problems. If so, school should put parents in touch with support services to reduce pupil's caring role.

Warning signs include:

  • regular or increased lateness or absence
  • concentration problems, anxiety, tiredness; under-achievement and late or incomplete homework
  • may be a sudden unexplained drop in attainment
  • few or no peer friendships
  • conversely, the pupil may get on well with adults and present as very mature for their age
  • victim of bullying, sometimes explicitly linked to a family member’s disability, health or substance misuse problem;
  • behavioural problems, sometimes the result of anger or frustration expressed inappropriately
  • unable to attend extracurricular activities
  • difficulties in engaging parents
  • parents not attending parents’ evenings. 

It is vital that schools balance taking a supportive, flexible approach with giving the pupil a consistent message that their education is important. Most young carers say that when forced to choose between staying at home to look after a loved one and going to school, caring comes first. When more appropriate sources of caring are not immediately available to a family, schools can help pupils to balance their caring responsibilities with their education in several easy ways:

  • Most young carers will meet the definition of a child “in need” under the Children Act 1989 and may be entitled to an assessment from Children’s Services. A small number will be at risk of significant harm. Where you suspect that this may be the case, the school’s child protection procedures should be followed
  • Ensure that there is a named member of staff that pupils can talk to and whose role is well understood by staff, pupils and parents
  • Speak to pupils who you believe to be carers in private, not in class
  • Where possible, speak to the pupil’s parent: see “Adults’ Services” below
  • Offer disabled parents support with getting their children to school. Some parents have fluctuating conditions, such as MS, which mean that they can support their children to get to school on some days but are immobile on others. The implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act means that LEAs must provide adequate support to disabled parents with getting their children to school
  • Allow young carers to telephone home if they are worried about a relative. A young carers card scheme can help young people identify themselves and access facilities such as a phone or an early lunch pass without having to explain their personal circumstances
  • Negotiate deadlines for homework at times when the pupil’s caring role increases. Consider giving lunchtime detentions rather than after school detentions. Implement Education Maintenance Allowance guidance on writing EMA contracts that do not unfairly penalise young carers
  • Education Welfare Services, Home School Liaison workers, Inclusion Officers and other attendance professionals can play a key role in supporting the family and seeking the involvement of other services

Further Information can be found at: