Four out of five young carers who look after sick, disabled or addicted family members receive no support from local authorities, the Children’s commissioner for England has said.
Although children who care for a relative are entitled to help from their council, an estimated 130,000 youngsters aged five to 17 did not receive any, according to research published by Anne Longfield.
The commissioner’s survey of English local authorities found there were 160 carers aged under five, some of whom had been formally assessed and supported as carers, though it was not clear what responsibilities they had.
Longfield said it was unacceptable that so many young carers were “invisible” and were under the radar of local authorities.
“Not all children with caring responsibilities need support from their council but it is vital that those who do are properly assessed and the right help put in place. This report poses significant questions for local authorities about how they identify, assess and support young carers.”
Local authority leaders said that cuts to council funding meant resources were increasingly focused on children at risk of neglect or abuse, and this affected how much support they could provide for other children, including young carers.
Two local authorities anonymously told the commissioner that they did not provide enough support for young carers in their areas, with one estimating it helped only a third. Just under half of councils surveyed admitted that local agencies from schools to health services were poor at identifying young carers.
Charities in the sector told the commissioner that some councils carried out assessments of young carers but skimped on support. One said: “We are essentially carrying out assessments as a tick-box exercise. We are prioritising bureaucracy and not actually considering what we need to best help young carers.”
Longfield said she was concerned that some young carers were apparently under the age of five. “I will be following this up with those local authorities to clarify exactly what it is that these children are doing,” she said.
The legal definition of a young carer is “a person under 18 who provides or intends to provide care to another person”. They have a right to a needs assessment, which will determine whether the care they provide is excessive or inappropriate, especially if it impacts on their health, wellbeing or education.
Young carers may miss out on typical childhood experiences and opportunities, the commissioner said. They often struggle to make and maintain friendships and are at risk of falling behind at school. Some find it difficult to ask for help because they fear being taken into care. A quarter have care needs of their own.
The commissioner cites Children’s Society research that found one in 12 young carers spends more than 15 hours a week in a caring role. One in five miss school because of caring responsibilities, and many do poorly in exams as a result.
The study surveyed 152 English councils with responsibility for young carers. Based on the returns of the 130 which replied, it calculated that 33,500 young carers were being supported. It came to the 130,000 figure of those not getting support by comparing this to the 166,000 young carers in England aged five to 17 from the 2011 census.
Cllr Richard Watts, the chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “Every young carer has a right to an assessment to find out if they need additional support, and councils will do all they can to provide this support where needs are identified.
“However, this is proving increasingly difficult as councils are forced to balance ongoing funding cuts with significant increases in demand for immediate child protection support to keep children safe from harm.
“With councils facing a £1.9bn funding gap for children’s services by 2020, the limited funding available has to be carefully targeted at those children and young people who are in the greatest need.
“Unfortunately, this means that councils are forced to make increasingly difficult decisions about the level of support they are able to provide to other children and young people in their area, including some young carers.”
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