Children Who Care
We’ve all been there, a frantic evening in the Children’s Assessment Unit, taking history after history. Short on time, slightly short on listening skills…. “Does he have any other medical problems?” “What school does he go to?” “Any pets at home?” “Is he a carer for anyone else?”
The last one doesn’t really trip of the tongue in acute paediatrics, does it? However with 178,000 children identified as being young carers in England and Wales alone in 2011, should it? 10 000 of these young carers are aged between 5 and 7 years and the numbers continue to increase. That 6 year old boy, referred with acute exacerbation of wheeze may have made breakfast for a family of 4 that morning before helping to carry the shopping home later that afternoon. That 8 year girl with the non-blanching rash brought in by her grandmother may be fraught with worry
about who’s going to change her baby sister’s nappy if Mum drinks too much tonight.
The definition of a young carer is “someone aged 18 or under who helps look after a relative who has a condition, such as a disability, illness, mental health condition, or a drug or alcohol problem”.
These children have had to grow up fast in order to meet the needs of their parents or siblings, but what about their needs? Are they being met? The answer is probably not. Survey’s have shown that young carers have poorer health outcomes than their peers and demonstrate poor achievement at school with a higher level of unemployment in early adulthood. Young carers may miss out on opportunities to play and learn, which in itself is a breech of rights. The UN convention on the rights of a child states that all children should have the right to relax and play
The law in the UK has recently changed and from April 2015, all young carer’s and their families require a young carer’s needs assessment. This assessment is centred around the child carer, (although the needs of the person they care for may be assessed simultaneously). It aims to ascertain if the provision of the care by the child is appropriate as well as taking the specific wishes and needs of the child into account. Additional support can then be provided to meet the child’s specific needs such as education and leisure
Unfortunately the numbers of young carers in the UK is felt to be underestimated and without recognising their existence, vital support cannot be provided. A recent report by ‘The Children’s Society’ in 2013 entitled ‘Hidden from View’ explored potential reasons for this including family loyalty, stigma, bullying and a lack of knowledge of where to go for support. There was an association between low income families and young carers. It was also recognised that girls and children from black, Asian or other ethnic minority communities were more likely to be carers than their counterparts.
However in reality, any child that comes through our hospital doors could be a young carer. Maybe they’ve just never been asked. So maybe we should….