This blog is for Carers Week, an annual campaign to raise awareness of carers, the challenges they face, and the contribution they make to society.
There is no doubt social care has risen dramatically up the agenda recently. It’s widely regarded Theresa May’s inherited majority was diminished partly because of the debacle over the so-called “dementia tax” proposal. There is, however, a natural inclination to focus exclusively on the individuals who require care. The debate tends to ignore the role of carers who are projected to save the UK economy £132 billion a year. It is often up to family to take on the responsibility of looking after loved ones.
In thousands of cases, it’s up to a child.
It’s estimated there are around 700,000 young carers in the UK. The Care Act 2014 defines a young carer as: “a person under 18 who provides or intends to provide care for another person (of any age, except where that care is provided for payment, pursuant to a contract or as voluntary work).” Some councils have extended the definition even further to include duties such as grocery shopping and other housework in addition to actual caring duties.
Local authorities have a statutory duty (shared between children’s and adult services) to identify and support young carers , however a recent report by the Children’s Commissioner for England estimated four out of five receive no support from their local authority. Young carers are more likely to have lower educational attainment and classify as NEETs. It’s crucial they receive the support they need and are entitled to. But the real challenge is identifying them in the first place.
To mark Carers Week, the Scottish government has helped launch a social media campaign across platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram to reach out to and identify young carers. Whilst short-term, awareness-raising tactics like this are commendable and necessary, it’s public services where a long-term, sustainable solution can be reached.
The Care Act placed a duty on local authorities to adopt a whole-family and person-centred approach to supporting carers. To enable this, an integrated approach is needed between councils, schools, and other agencies to identify young carers. Councils would particularly benefit from working closely with schools, a fact recognised in many councils’ young carer strategies. Unsurprisingly, the adage ‘prevention is better than cure’ applies here most as schools are obviously better placed to notice warning signs than other agencies.
An example of an integrated approach is found in Manchester City Council. The council’s Targeted Youth Support Service (TYSS) entails each district having a dedicated worker for young carers linked to their Early Help Hubs. The aim is to strengthen early identification and assessment through working with services aimed at young people, including schools. Manchester has been leading the way in health and social care integration in general, so it’s no surprise the council can use its existing integrated infrastructure such as Early Help Hubs to specifically target young carers.
Out of love and duty, young carers carry a tremendous amount on their young shoulders. It’s our duty to make sure they are listened to and supported. Councils play a vital role in this, but it’s up to all relevant local services to collaborate and effectively identify, assess, and support.