Hidden Lives – New Report Shows Reality of Life for Scots Children Caring Behind Closed Doors

A new report and YouGov survey published today by Barnardo’s (7th November, 2006) indicates that Scottish children caring for parents with addictions, mental health issues or physical disabilities are missing out on vital support.

Barnardo’s provides services for young carers across the UK and we have long suspected that many of them are failing to be identified by schools, social services or young carer support projects and that many have to wait years to find help. The official figure for young carers* in the UK is 175,000 but we fear that this is a marked under estimate.

The new report Hidden Lives (available on PDF), has exposed the fact that many young carers are not captured in official statistics and are effectively left to cope alone, often for years. It includes a YouGov poll of 1,000 primary and secondary school teachers including those in Scotland. We discovered that discovered that:

94% of Scottish teachers responding were concerned that some young carers are falling through the net and remaining unidentified. This figure compares to 91% for the UK.

87% of Scottish teachers surveyed believed that the families of young carers (who do not request support) have deliberately taken the decision not to inform social services for fear that the department might get involved in an unwelcome way, (for example by breaking the family up.). This figure compares to 78% for the UK.

Around three quarters of Scottish teachers thought young carers hide their situation from teachers (78%) and other school children (74%). This figure compares to teachers (72%) and other school children (75%) for the UK.

57% of teachers in Scotland thought that the system in schools supposedly designed to identify and support young carers was not effective enough. This figure compares to 50% for the UK.

The charity also compiled a survey asking 83 young carers in Barnardo’s projects* about the reality of their lives. This revealed that:

On average each young carer had spent a total of four years looking after a parent or relative before they received any support.

Most young carers were aged 13-15 years and had caring duties that lasted on average 17 hours a week.

Both surveys drew attention to a ‘culture of secrecy’ that exists amongst both young carers and their families.

Hugh Mackintosh, Director, Scotland – Barnardo’s said:

‘At least 175,000 children and young people are forced to give up their childhoods so that they can care for a parent, brother or sister who is seriously ill. They have huge responsibilities that most adults never have to face, some providing care for 30 hours or more a week(1). They often have to administer medicines, bath parents, pay bills, and be responsible for shopping for the family; as well as looking after younger brothers and sisters. Without support, they can miss out on childhood altogether.’

To coincide with the publication of the survey, Barnardo’s is launching (on 7 November) a new radio and magazine advertising campaign to highlight the problem. The charity is looking for 175,000 to sign up to the latest campaign to give their “permission” for young carers to have a break. For more information please log on to: www.barnardos.org.uk

All findings and recommendations are listed in the new Barnardo’s report: Hidden Lives – unidentified young carers in the UK.

[1]UK 2001 Census of Population, Office of National Statistics. London

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Name: Shiela Patel