How Does Caring for Older Relatives Affect Children?

Official figures have revealed that nearly 180,000 unpaid child carers – some as young as five – are being used to fill Britain’s care gap. According to statistics released this month from the 2011 England and Wales census, almost 10,000 five to seven year old now work as carers for their relatives, which is an increase of around 80% in a decade. More than 1,600 of these young children look after relatives for more than 50 hours a week.

Rhiannon Whiting, 16, from Wilmslow, Cheshire, has been a carer for her grandparents since she was 10. Rhiannon details, ‘My nana has spinal stenosis, so she can’t stand up for more than about three minutes, and my grandad has trouble with his breathing and uses a machine at night…I don’t get much time to see friends; I put nana and grandad first. I only go to school for two hours on Tuesdays, Thursday and Fridays and I’m taking four GCSEs. My day starts helping Grandad get up and climb down the stairs, then I make him tea. I come home from school at 11 in the morning and make nana a drink, make sure she’s taken her tablets and clean up.’

The Children’s Society’s chief executive, Matthew Reed, commented, ‘Caring can cost children dearly. They are missing out on their childhoods and school, gaining fewer qualifications and job opportunities and therefore are less likely to earn a decent living in the future. We are calling for support for these children and their families to prevent them from caring in the first place. All children must be allowed to thrive and enjoy their childhoods.’

Sharon Hodgson MP, Labour’s shadow children’s minister, also noted, ‘Being a young carer can have a significant impact on the education and health of children and young people, which can follow them through the rest of their lives. It is therefore vital that all young carers are identified and given the support they need to cope with their responsibilities.’ These figures have not gone unnoticed by the Department for Education, as a spokesperson said, ‘We know young carers need more help and we are supporting local authorities to do much more for these dedicated young people. We recently announced that young carers will be involved in the training of school nurses, so they know exactly what support they should offer.’

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