Children and young people who take on carer responsibilities for parents, siblings or for another extended family member are known as young carers.
They can end up taking on this role for a range of reasons – often because a parent/carer has physical or mental health needs.
Many young carers have trouble balancing school and home responsibilities, which may impact their mental health. Research has shown that 38% of young carers report having a mental health condition.
The same research found that just half of young carers said that they had received additional support from someone at their school.
It is important that all staff members are aware of students with caring roles, so that a whole-school approach to support and understanding is used.
Identifying the signs
Children and young people may not feel able to talk about difficulties linked to their role and may feel guilty about being unable to cope. Some signs that they might be struggling include:
- withdrawing into themselves and becoming anxious or frustrated
- sudden changes in concentration or educational performance
- changes in attendance patterns (linked to fear of leaving an unwell parent), school refusal, being late
- other behaviour changes – particularly longer-term challenging behaviour
- a change in how organised and ready for school they are
- physical health problems
- frequent unexplained angry outbursts
- tiredness (often due to nightmares or anxiety or being woken by unwell parents).
What schools and further education settings can do
If you are at all concerned about a child or young person, you should always speak to your designated safeguarding lead as a matter of priority. They will be able to advise on suitable next steps, and speaking to them about any concerns should always be the first action you take, ahead of any of the suggestions on this page.
- Create a safe, respectful, nurturing school and classroom environment.
- Many whole-school programmes and targeted, small group work are proven to help build children’s understanding of their own thoughts, emotions and feelings, build self-esteem, promote healthy relationships and develop resilience.
- Be approachable. Positive relationships in the classroom/school that are built on trust, kindness, safety and security promote pupil wellbeing and encourage children to open up and talk
- Be alert, watchful and questioning – particularly to what children might be trying to communicate via their play or behaviour.
- Teach children that mental health is a spectrum and normalise conversations about wellbeing and seeking help.
- Create an individual wellbeing plan with young carers – what do they need to thrive and cope well? This may include homework clubs, peer support groups/networks, or support from an older child in the same position.
- Some young carers may need a little extra help, either through school pastoral care/counselling support, school clubs, summer schemes or through referral to community-based support.
- Build good partnerships with families and understand their circumstances. Be alert to any changes in family health.
- Ensure school events and parents’ evenings are accessible to parents/carers with disabilities or who find it difficult to leave the house without support.
- Support children and families through signposting and getting an illness/condition diagnosed or a substance dependency recognised.
- Plan early to help young carers make transitions to secondary school or other schools.