Child carers take punishment at school in silence

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The Independent Online

A "hidden" army of worried children are being punished because they don't tell their schools they are caring for their invalid parents, a report says.

They regularly turn up for school late, take days off or hand in their school work late, says Ofsted, the education standards watchdog. As a result, they take punishments like detention without a murmur, rather than talk about their family circumstances. One in three children caring for parents who are disabled, alcoholic or drug takers have not told their school of the situation they are in, the report states.

It recommends that local authorities throughout the country should conduct investigations to find out how widespread incidents of children caring for their parents are in their locality.

"All the professionals who took part in the survey recognised that there were unidentified young carers in their council areas," says the report.

"Two of the councils were not being proactive in identifying young carers."

The report, Supporting Young Carers, says young carers talk of their lives being "hard" and "stressful". Tasks they have to undertake include the collection and administration of medication, first aid and dealing with family finances.

Even some children who told their school about their home situation find it is forgotten when they are accused of breaking school rules, Ofsted discovered. One told researchers: "Sometimes I am late for school – they don't remember I'm a young carer. I just put up with the detention."

Others talked of the restrictions of their social lives out of school. "I don't have anyone back and I don't go out. [I] just say I can't be bothered," said one. "It's easier than explaining. Only close friends know I am a young carer. I don't broadcast it."

Christine Gilbert, chief inspector of schools, said: "Councils and their partners need to work together to identify and support young carers and their families." The report showed that few councils – one in eight of those surveyed – consulted child carers about their needs when assessing what needed to be done to support their parents. Many parents, particularly those abusing drugs, were reluctant to tell outside agencies about the help they relied on from their children, Ofsted said. Social services staff told inspectors they were concerned about the number of "hidden" carers in families where parents had drug and alcohol problems.

"Councils and their partners were unable to estimate how many young carers were in this group. It is unacceptable that for most young carers no assessment of their own needs was conducted by social care professionals," said Ms Gilbert.