Many young people who are still at school or college also look after someone at home. This could be a parent, a grandparent, a brother or sister, or another family member who is ill or disabled. This page looks at issues that affect young carers specifically and the help and support that's available.
Who are young carers?
Children and young people who look after a family member at home are called young carers. Caring for someone may involve:
- helping them get up and dressed in the morning
- feeding them
- helping them get around
- keeping them company
- doing lots of chores, such as cooking, cleaning, washing and shopping, because there's no-one else to do them
- looking after your brothers or sisters because your mum or dad is ill or not around any more.
You may not think of yourself as a 'carer' - you may think that looking after your mum, dad, brother or sister is just part of being in a family. However, if you do spend a lot of time caring for someone, you shouldn't have to do it on your own - it can be tough and you have a right to help.
Who can help me?
Young carers are entitled to the same help and support as adults who look after someone at home (although if you are under 16 you won't be entitled to the same benefits - see 'what about money' below). The page on being a carer looks at how you can get help from social work, your doctor, your local carers' centre and other voluntary organisations.
Some young people who care for family members don't want other people, such as social workers, getting involved. However, you shouldn't have to cope on your own, so don't be afraid to ask for help.
Can I get a carer's assessment?
No matter how old (or young) you are, if you're looking after someone, you can ask your doctor or social worker to arrange for you to have a carer's assessment. This gives you the chance to talk to a social worker or therapist about the things you do for the person you care for. If you have any worries about your situation, now is the time to talk about them. For example, you should let the social worker know:
- if you are having problems at school, for example if you find it hard to get all your homework done or keep having to take days off
- if you are always tired or aren't sleeping well
- if you feel you don't have time to see your friends and have a 'normal' life of your own
- if you want to go away to college or university or get a job.
Social work will then see what they can do to make life easier for you. For example, they may arrange for a care worker to come round in the morning to help the person you look after get washed and dressed, so you won't be late for school. Or they may find a volunteer to keep the person company at the weekend, so you can go out with your friends. They can also help you work out care arrangements for the person if you need to take a break or go away to study or work.
You can find out more about carer's assessments.
What if I'm still at school?
Combining caring with school can be difficult. Sometimes you may be late, because you've had to help the person you look after get up and dressed. Sometimes you may not have time to do your homework. Sometimes you may have to take days off school, because the person you look after is in a bad way or has to go to hospital.
It's a good idea to let your teachers know that you are caring for someone. That way, they'll understand if you have problems, and can help you make up any work you miss. They may give you extra time to do assignments, or let you take your mobile into class, so you can always be in touch with the person you look after.
The YC net website has lots of information on coping with caring and schoolwork, and also has advice on what to do if other people at school are bullying you.
What about money?
If money is tight, you may be able to get benefits. Claiming benefits is a complicated process, so you're best off speaking to an expert - an adviser at your nearest Citizens Advice or welfare advice centre can work out which benefits you can claim and help you fill in the application forms. You can find out more about benefits available for carers and for 16-17-year-olds here. If you're under 16, you should get help from an adviser - use the Advice Services Directory to find an adviser near you.
How can I contact other young carers?
As a young carer, you may feel alone and left out sometimes. But there are lots of other young carers out there who know exactly what you're going through. You can get in touch with them through, for example, the online discussion forums at YC net (remember never to give out your phone number and address over the internet).
What if I'm having problems?
Caring for someone can be very hard. Everyone goes through bad patches and it's normal to feel frustrated, angry, let down, anxious, helpless, scared, guilty or sad. Some young carers feel so unhappy that they end up running away, self-harming, drinking or taking drugs to cope. If you're in this situation, you may feel that no-one understands what you're going through and no-one can help, but they can. Try talking to:
- someone else in your family, such as a grandparent, aunt or uncle
- your best friend, or their mum or dad
- a teacher
- your social worker/key worker or doctor, or a care worker or nurse who helps you at home
- other young carers.
If you don't want to talk to anyone you know, you can always call ChildLine on 0800 1111. A ChildLine counsellor will listen to you and help you find ways to sort out your problems. They won't tell anyone else what you've said, unless you want them to.
The Site has lots of helpful information for young carers and for people who are coping with problems such as self-harming and drug and alcohol abuse, and has discussion forums where you can share your problems with other young people in a similar position. You can also find more links to organisations that can help you in our section for young people.
Where can I find out more?
- Your doctor, social worker or teacher can help you find out more about being a carer.
- To find out more about the particular illness or disability the person you look after has, talk to your doctor or practice nurse. You can also read up on different conditions at the Patient UK website.
- Contact your nearest young carers' centre - this will be listed on the Young Carers Initiative website.
- Our useful links page lists organisations that specialise in supporting young people.