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28 January 2016

Today, remember the children who are themselves carers

Some children are forced to grow up faster than others. 

By javed Khan

Thirteen year old Tomomi has had to grow up fast, doing chores around the home to help her mum who suffers from a debilitating blood condition. While most children her age enjoy a care-free existence Tomomi has lived through her mum’s sickle cell anaemia, which has seen her hospitalised several times. It’s meant becoming self-reliant and helping before and after school with her older sister, including at mealtimes, which she does without complaining.

Tomomi is one of a 500,000 strong army of young carers in the UK, who often sacrifice simple childhood pleasures to take care of a loved one at home.

Today is Young Carer’s Awareness day and as a parent of four children, I am hugely impressed by the dedication and loyalty of the young carers I’ve met through Barnardo’s services that support them. Unsurprisingly, many of these children and young people are deeply affected by their caring role.

Like Tomomi, the majority of young carers struggle with their education, with one in twenty missing school. Young carers are also more likely to suffer from mental health issues and tend to get bullied at school. They become isolated.

These are the symptoms a young carer is not getting the help they need at home or in school. They may not know where to go for help and carry the weight of their caring responsibilities alone.

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An evening at a Barnardo’s young carers service can give them a well-deserved break from their caring responsibilities. They can meet other young carers in the same situation as themselves, learn what help they are entitled to, as well as enjoy the kind of days out that other children may take for granted.

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Children should never be in a situation where they are left to their own devices, without support and help. Sadly, huge pressure on local authority and NHS budgets means there simply isn’t enough social or health care support to go around – so family members of all ages have to step into the brink.

A recent change to legislation, which cut away some particularly unhelpful red tape, should mean young carers are being spotted sooner so get help from social services. Now the whole family must be considered, especially children, when social services assess what care an adult needs at home. This is a step in the right direction. As is a child’s new right to ask the local authority for a “young carers assessment” themselves.

Young carer figures have been rising since these legislative changes came in, as more young carers are identified. So the policy appears to be working on some levels. This is good news for the children, and in their best interests. But assessing young carers is varying dramatically across the country.

In Liverpool for example, young carers are being supported by Barnardo’s team of experts, commissioned by the city’s council. They know how to spot young carers, identify their needs and make sure the right support is put into place for each child. This approach is working well, and is a model other authorities could follow. A best practice model must be developed to provide quality support for these very vulnerable children.

However, in the meantime my fear is there could be thousands of children who are still slipping through the net. No child should have to cope alone.