Introduction for young carers' and young adult carers' breaks

The guidance contains four main sections in addition to this introduction:

  • Context, which is aimed at all audiences
  • Commissioning, which is mainly of use for commissioners
  • Providing breaks, which is aimed at service providers but will also be of value to commissioners and services linked to young carers
  • Practice examples, which are current examples of services for young carers throughout England.

About young carers and young adult carers

A young carer is a child or young person under 18 years old who spends time looking after or helping a family or household member that would find it difficult to cope without this help. The person may require support from a young carer for a range of reasons, including because that person is physically or mentally ill, disabled or misuses alcohol or substances. Most young carers look after a parent or a brother or sister. A young carer may be caring for more than one person, for example, a parent and a sibling.

A young adult carer is a carer ‘in transition to adulthood’ and aged between 16 and 25. Young adult carers will be included in this guidance as well as transition support. The guidance for ‘adult carers’ breaks’ will also be of relevance for this group.

Young carers and young adult carers, and the people they support, are from all backgrounds, cultures and religions, with a diverse range of needs. A survey of young carers in 2016 found that there was a large overrepresentation of children and young people with disabilities in the young carer population, meaning they also had care and support needs of their own.

Young carers are one and a half times more likely to be from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, and are twice as likely not to speak English as their first language.

Support provided by young carers and young adult carers

Young carers and young adult carers provide a range of support. Day-to-day responsibilities may include:

  • practical tasks such as cooking, cleaning and shopping
  • providing intimate personal care such as helping someone to get out of bed and get dressed
  • helping to give medicines
  • supporting with GP or hospital visits
  • providing emotional support
  • financial management
  • communication, for example by being the primary translator in a non-English speaking family.

Action for Children estimates that young carers spend on average 25 hours per week caring for loved ones and that many are effectively ‘on call’ at night.

Impact on young carers

A longitudinal survey is a way of researching and finding out what happens to the same people or a situation over a long period of time which could be years or decades. Children’s Society used a longitudinal survey and found that:

  • Young carers and young adult carers are at risk of poorer educational outcomes than their peers, with significantly lower attainment at GCSE level. They may miss high numbers of days of school per year and are more likely to drop out of college or university.
  • They have higher rates of poor mental and physical health and high levels of stress and tiredness.
  • They are vulnerable to financial difficulties and are more likely than the national average to be ‘not in education, employment or training’ as they transition to young adulthood between 16 and 19 years of age.
  • Young carers may experience social isolation and a lack of opportunity to take part in typical social and leisure activities alongside their peers. This makes it difficult for them to maintain relationships.

Children love their parents and siblings. Many do amazing things for them and do it without complaint. All the more important, then, that we recognise this for the sacrifice it is, and do our best to lift the burden from their young shoulders.

Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, 2016

Context for young carers' and young adult carers' breaks

This guide to young carers’ and young adult carers’ breaks and support is intended as an additional resource to the carers’ breaks for adults guidance. There are some overlaps, especially for young adult carers and some services for carers offer support for all age groups. There are some similarities, particularly in relation to working in partnerships across local authorities, health and the third sector, but there are also some differences in relation to the legal duties and the types of breaks and support that are appropriate.

Many services for young carers are part of a larger carers service that supports carers of all ages. Others are attached to children’s services or services for particular illnesses or disabilities that additionally support carers. Therefore, for some services both sets of guidance will be relevant.

  • Definition and importance Open

    As with adult carers’ break, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach for young carers.

    Many young carers’ services do offer what is sometimes called ‘respite breaks’ – where the young carer has time away from the person they care for, often as part of a residential break. In practice, most services will provide a range of health, wellbeing, financial and emotional support for young carers, as well as residential breaks. Breaks and support cover a wide range of services and activities, taking a ‘whole family’ approach. These can include regular leisure activities, holidays, training opportunities, one-to-one support, counselling, group work and activities for the family to enjoy together.

    A whole-family approach aims to provide families with access to personalised, integrated and holistic packages of support that address the underlying factors causing young people to take on inappropriate and/or excessive caring responsibilities.

  • Legislation Open

    The Children and Families Act 2014 and the Care Act 2014 placed a legal duty on local authorities to identify young carers and carry out both a needs assessment and a transition assessment to consider the impact of caring on the child and family using a whole-family approach. Support for a child, young person and / or whole family may be provided under the Children Act 1989, including as part of early intervention services. The law does do not compel local authorities to specifically provide respite or breaks for young carers, but breaks may be provided as one form of support or as part of a support to the whole family.

    The care and support statutory guidance for the Care Act (Department of Health, 2016) is focused on children not undertaking inappropriate or excessive caring roles that may have a negative impact on their development. Care and support needs of an adult may be addressed under the Care Act 2014 so that a child or young person is not undertaking inappropriate and/or excessive caring.

    The Care Act recognises that NHS services also have a significant role to play, particularly in the identification of young carers and some areas will have a joint commissioning team.