MORE than 100,000 children in Britain spend much or all of their childhood caring for parents made dependent by disability or illness. Although the Children Act says childhood should be protected and that children in need are a priority, no money is designated for young carers.

But last Tuesday an early day motion was tabled in the House of Commons on the subject of young carers. This followed publication of sharply critical research by Dr Saul Becker, Director of the Young Carer's Research Project, and Jo Aldridge, of Loughborough University. Dr Becker says: 'Most parents believed their children cared through love and affection and that they wanted to care. Child carers, on the other hand, referred more to being elected into the role. However much they loved a parent, it was not a role they would have chosen. Parents are not in the best position to recognise or manage their children's needs as carers. This support needs to come from outside . . . but this is not to deny parents the key role and responsibility for their children's development.'

It is this issue which often prevents families from seeking help. Sylvia Heal, at the Carers National Association, explains: 'There is often a fear that if the authorities believe the child is not coping, they might put the parent in a home or the child into care. The thing they all want most is to keep the family together, so they suffer in silence.

'Because these children are not sick or abused they are not seen as in need, but they are. We'd like to see a partnership between them and professionals in which they were listened to and given the back-up they need to have a normal childhood.'