The answer to that question is you quite probably have, even if you didn’t know it at the time. When visiting patients has there been a child or young person, cleaning, making a cuppa, preparing food, reminding the patient to take medication or providing emotional support and reassurance? In the clinic has there been a child or young person helping support your patient to mobilise or have they been translating for them?
A young carer is someone aged 18 and under who cares unpaid for a friend or family member who due to illness, disability, a mental health problem or an addiction cannot cope without their support. Older young carers aged 16- 25 are also known as young adult carers and they may have different support needs to younger carers.
The Scottish Government recognise that there are at least 29,000 young carers in Scotland. There are still many young carers who remain hidden and this could be due to a number of reasons, such as stigma, fear of social work intervention and their family getting split up, bullying, not wanting to be different from their peers, lack of understanding or simply not knowing they have a right to recognition and support.
There are many positive skills that young carers gain as part of their role, such as budget and time management, life skills, resilience and even knowledge of medical conditions and medicines. However, the last year has had an impact on all of us but young carers have reported that their caring responsibilities have increased which has impacted their mental and physical health. A report by Carers Trust Scotland showed that:
- 11% of both young and young adult carers in Scotland report an increase of 30 hours or more in the amount of time they spend caring per week.
- 6% of young carers and 11% of young adult carers in Scotland are spending over 90 hours a week caring for a family member or friend.
- 35% of young carers are struggling to look after themselves. By this we mean being able to eat healthily, exercise, or get enough sleep. This rises to 59% amongst young adult carers.
“It’s made it harder. I don’t get any respite, no time away or family support”Young carer, aged 12
I am often asked “how do you speak to a young carer?” and the answer to that is like you would any other young person. Young carers are not looking for sympathy, in fact many of them do not want to give up their caring role but they would like to be listened to and understood, and a little empathy goes a long way. You can help by letting young carers know they are not alone and they are valued in the responsibilities they have.
There is support available for young carers from their local young carers service who offer things like one to one sessions, peer group supports, short breaks, and various local and national activities. There is also help available from Young Scot who offer a non cash entitlements package https://young.scot/campaigns/national/young-carers and the Young Carer Grant https://www.mygov.scot/young-carer-grant As part of the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016, every young carer in Scotland has the right to a Young Carers Statement. A Young Carers Statement will help identify and highlight any outcomes and areas of support that the young carer may require. It is the duty of the local authority to offer a Young Carers Statement but the young carer does not have to accept the offer. To find out more about who offers the Young Carers Statement in your area, you can contact your local young carers service or carers centre: https://www.careinfoscotland.scot/topics/support-for-carers/carer-centres/
Next steps: Equal Partners in Care is a suite of learning resources designed to help you develop and enhance your practice alongside carers as equal partners. Visit: https://learn.nes.nhs.scot/19211/
Kelly Munro, Education Officer (Primary and Secondary) – Carers Trust Scotland