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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. Young carers are more likely than their peers to have a special educational need or a disability, meaning they have care and support needs of their own.

Young carers are one and a half times more likely to be from 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.

The data from the 2021 census, published by the Office for National Statistics shows there were approximately 120,000 young unpaid carers (aged 5-17) in England. Across England and Wales 71,120 young people aged 18-24 are providing between 20-49 hours of unpaid care per week, rising from 43,950 young people at the 2011 census.

A 2023 survey by Carers Trust found that 51 per cent of young and young adult carers care for 20-49 hours each week. 56 per cent said that the time they spent caring had increased in the past year. This time did not reflect the time they spent worrying about the person or people they support, highlighting that the caring role continues when not physically together.

Impact on young carers

Young carers and young adult carers have been found to be at a higher risk of a range of poor outcomes when compared with their peers.

  • Young carers and young adult carers are at risk of poorer educational outcomes than their peers, with significantly lower attainment at GCSE level. 33 per cent of young and young adult carers told the Carers Trust they ‘always’ or ‘usually’ struggle to balance caring with school, college or work.
  • They have higher rates of poor mental and physical health and high levels of stress and tiredness. 44 per cent of young and young adult carers told Carers Trust they ‘always’ or ‘usually’ feel stressed because of being a carer, with 27 per cent reporting too little sleep.
  • 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. 57 per cent of young and young adult carers told the Carers Trust that they worry about the cost of living and things becoming more expensive.
  • 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.

During COVID, research by the Carers Trust found a steep decline in the mental health and wellbeing of both young carers and young adult carers. More recently, most studies included in a systematic review found that young carers had poorer physical and mental health, on average, than their non-caregiving peers (Lacey, Xue and McMunn 2022).

Regarding young adult carers, research has found that young people (16-25) who provided care were found to: be less likely to be in employment, have lower earnings from paid employment, and have poorer mental and physical health than young people who did not provide care.

I wouldn’t say that my caring role impacts my life; I would say that it is my life.

Ollie Mallin, Welsh Youth parliament member and young carer (Carers Trust 2023)

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.

Further reading

Being a young carer: your rights (NHS 2021)

Supporting professionals working with young carers (The Children’s Society)