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The lives of young carers in England: Qualitative report to DfE

This report forms part of a programme of research conducted by TNS BMRB, in partnership with Professor Jo Aldridge, Director of the Young Carers Research Group (YCRG) at Loughborough University, investigating the lives of young carers aged 5 to 17 in England. This research, undertaken on behalf of the Department for Education, has comprised:

• A feasibility study to find a cost effective quantitative approach (or approaches) that can give the Department an estimate of the prevalence of young caring, the characteristics and circumstances of young carers and the impact of their caring responsibilities on their lives.

• Qualitative research to find out more about the characteristics of young carers and their families; the nature of care they are providing; the impacts of caring responsibilities and needs of both young carers and their families; experiences of support; and responses to support propositions developed in consultation with key local and national stakeholders. This qualitative research forms the focus of this report.

According to the most recent census (Office for National Statistics, 2011), there are almost 166,000 young carers (aged 5-17) in England. Young carers undertake a wide range of caring roles and responsibilities, including emotional support, personal care, housework and household budgeting. While research has found that caring can result in positive impacts, there is a relatively strong body of evidence on the adverse impact of caring on health outcomes, social activity, educational engagement and employment opportunities for young carers (e.g. Aldridge, 2008; Becker, 2007). As such, children who live with and care for parents or other family members who are ill or disabled may require support in their capacity as children and/or as young carers.

At present, young carers and their families have access to a range of different health, social care and educational support services, all of which should include needs assessments that support the identification and management of adults as services users, the support needed in their role as parents and, importantly, the support needs of their children. However, a significant proportion of young carers have not disclosed their caring responsibilities to their school, they are no more likely to be in contact with social services than are their peers, and only a minority have had an assessment of their needs or been informed about sources of help (Barnardo’s, 2006; Dearden and Becker, 2004; The Children’s Society, 2013). Many families do not recognise their children as ‘carers’ (Smyth et al., 2011), some children do not recognise or identify with the role, and there can be a degree of reluctance, even anxiety, among families in disclosing caring responsibilities.

With the implementation of the Care Act 2014 (HM Government, 2014) and the Children and Families Act 2014 (HM Government, 2014) there is now a need for local authorities to identify and assess the support needs of young carers, regardless of the type of support they provide.