This week I’m in up in Manchester at the Labour Party conference. To kick off my Monday, I’ve been at a meeting in Manchester City Hall organised by Action for Children , looking at the impact the current economic situation is having on children and families and what Labour should do if it’s elected next time. There was a great turn out and real support from MPs, including Lisa Nandy MP one of the shadow education ministers. My table was chaired by Pat Glass, MP for North West Durham, whose commitment to education issues is second to none.
Each group had case studies to discuss, and as it turns out, 3 of the tables were discussing a young carers issue. Whilst all were supportive of young carers, I was a bit worried by the feedback, which suggests to me that all of us working to support young carers need to get our messages out more clearly.
In the case study, the young carer involved was facing cuts in her local young carers service. It became clear in the room that many people don’t really have the full picture on what young carer services do. I think there’s still a perception that young carers services just provide fun activities for young people. Some participants were saying, well young carers services are all very well, but actually all sort of other services should be intervening to help the child, like education.
Of course, this is exactly what most young carers services do, using a whole family approach, pulling together all the organisations and professionals to make sure that the outcomes for that child and that family are as positive as possible. Sometimes the young carers worker is the only person looking at the family as a whole. They also work with schools, doing outreach work and supporting schools to identify and support young carers. Our schools resource encourages schools to put the policies and practice in place which we know can really make a difference.
However the other thing which was a bit worrying was that the people in the room didn’t seem to be asking the question of why the young person was in a caring role in the first place, and what impact that was having on them. We need to challenge the assumption that it’s OK to rely on a child or young person to provide care. Whilst most young carers want to help, and the caring they are doing may be fine for them at the moment, this should never be at the expense of their own childhood. If the kinds or extent of caring tasks they are carrying out is having a negative impact, then this needs to be addressed urgently. It’s right that families should all pitch in to support each other, but children have a right to be children, first and foremost.
One of the problems we face is that where local authority care budgets are cut, then if someone has care needs, that care still has to be provided by someone- and it inevitably falls to friends and family to provide it. This is hard enough for adults, and we know many are struggling to cope with cuts in services and family finances. We need to make the point crystal clear that it is never acceptable to expect a child to fill the gap in care which is left when services are cut.
79% of young carers were worried about reaching 18 as there were no services to support them through that transition period while continuing to care between childhood and adulthood. Help us support young adult carers by voting for us as Co-operative’s Charity of the Year.