A new study from the Children’s Commissioner for England today finds:
- 130,000 children aged 5-17 with caring responsibilities may be unknown to local authorities
- Of the 18,000 young carers who were brought to the attention of local authorities in 2015-2016, one-third were rejected without assessment
- Councils have identified 160 ‘young carers’ under the age of 5
A new study from the Children’s Commissioner for England, published today, reveals that just a small fraction of young carers are receiving the support that they need.
For the first time, the Children’s Commissioner collected data from local authorities across the country to provide an accurate picture of how children and teenagers who look after sick, disabled, drug or alcohol dependent, or mentally ill family members are themselves supported.
Under current rules, children taking care of a relative are entitled to be assessed for support from their local authority. Of the 153 local authorities in England with responsibility for young carers, 130 responded to the Children’s Commissioner’s request for data, with 118 providing information about almost 32,000 young carers to whom they are currently providing support, 28,000 of these young carers were aged 5-17. The 2011 Census identified over 166,000 young carers aged 5-17 across England.
The Children’s Commissioner estimates that approximately 130,000, or over 80%, of young carers are not receiving any support at all from their local council. And of the 18,000 young carers brought to the attention of local authorities for the first time in 2015-16, one-third were rejected without ever being assessed.
In addition, responses to the Children’s Commissioner’s study suggest that many local authorities are prioritising their statutory requirement to assess referrals over the actual provision of support, which is less clearly defined in law. Several voluntary-sector organisations contracted to deliver services on behalf of councils have indicated that they receive funding specifically for carrying out assessments, but not for the provision of support itself – leaving them to raise further necessary funds on their own.
Service providers responded to the Children’s Commissioner’s enquiry anonymously. One respondent said:
“The local authority knows it has a responsibility to assess referred young carers, and so the pressure is on us to carry out those assessments. That is where council funding goes. But when it comes to following through on those assessments and delivering the support those young carers need, the budget dries up. Without statutory rules on actually delivering support, local authorities are essentially able to ignore young carers needs which, given the emphasis on assessing them, is completely backward.
“We are essentially carrying out assessments as a tick-box exercise. We are prioritising bureaucracy and not actually considering what we need to best help young carers.”
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said:
“Caring for relatives often places heavy emotional and physical burdens on children. It can lead to them missing out on education and also opportunities to make and spend time with friends. We know that some children marked as persistent school absentees are actually at home caring for parents or siblings.
“Not all children with caring responsibilities will need support from their council but it is vital that those who do are properly assessed and the right help put in place. This report poses significant questions for local authorities about how they identify, assess and support young carers.
“I am also concerned that some local authorities say that they are supporting young carers under the age of five. I will be following this up with those local authorities to clarify exactly what it is that these children are doing.
“It is absolutely unacceptable to have so many children with considerable caring responsibilities going under the radar, invisible to the authorities and denied the opportunities available to other children.”