Child carers need help themselves

Glenda Cooper reports on the plight of young people who assist sick relatives
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The Independent Online
Social services departments have little idea what is happening to the thousands of young people who care for sick and disabled relatives, according to a new survey by Community Care magazine.

Launching its campaign "Young Carers - Back Them Up", the magazine revealed that almost half of the departments have no staff dedicated to young carers and more than three-quarters have no special training.

Young carers, of whom there are an estimated 40,000 in Britain, are defined as people under 18 who care for a parent, sibling or close relative. They deal with a variety of illnesses - physical and mental, alcoholism, drug abuse, Aids.

Research into the age and gender of young carers and the types of illness they cope with will be completed later this year, but preliminary research in Nottingham suggests children as young as five care for parents and the majority are under 10.

The survey, of 60 directors of social services in England and Wales, also found that 35 per cent will not be able to provide the assessment of young people's needs that the new Carers (Recognition and Services) Act will require. A further 35 per cent did not know whether or not their budget would cover these services. The 6.8 million carers of all ages are estimated to save the Government pounds 30bn a year.

More than three-quarters of departments had no current budget for services specifically aimed at young people and half did not provide practical help for young carers, with 23 per cent having no plans to introduce it in the future. In spite of this, 55 per cent defined young carers as "children in need" under the Children Act.

Professions most likely to meet young carers had little contact with social services in this field: 67 per cent of departments had no formal contact about young carers with educational professionals, 54 per cent did not liaise with GPs and 41 per cent did not liaise with other National Health Service agencies.

Terry Philpot, editor of Community Care, said: "Young carers need to have more than applause - they need help based on respect for themselves and their families. Social services departments should not assume these young people can cope."

They must urgently start talking to other professions about young carers' needs."