How you can support carers to be part of Girlguiding in a way that works for them

Give carers a break by including them in the supportive environment of your unit.

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Both adult and young carers are part of guiding. They face a number of pressures that other volunteers and young members may not encounter such as:

  • Feelings of isolation.
  • Financial pressure.
  • Additional time pressure.
  • Loss of personal identity.

A carer is someone who cares for a friend or family member, without being paid. This could be because of:

  • Illness
  • Disability
  • Mental health
  • Addiction

A person with caring responsibilities may not identify themselves as a carer. This may be because they feel at risk of discrimination or because they don't recognise that they're a carer.

How can guiding help?

Guiding can provide young and adult carers with a connection to their wider community, respite from caring, and the chance to develop new skills and have unique experiences. Whether they have the capacity to be involved each week, or can only attend on an occasional basis, they will have the opportunity to develop strong, caring friendships.

Including young and adult carers

Work around them 

When organising meetings, try to include the person and be as flexible as possible. With volunteers, you might decide to hold a planning meeting at their house, or earlier in the day. With young members, they may need to arrive and leave meetings at different times, so make sure they feel comfortable doing this.

There should always be enough members of your leadership team to fulfil adult to child ratios if one team member can’t attend.

Inclusion at residentials

For both young and adult carers, staying overnight with guiding may be tricky. Could you plan the event so that they could attend for the day and leave in the evening?

Be sensitive 

Carers may not disclose their personal circumstances, but this may affect their behaviour in the unit. For example, they may become upset or overwhelmed during meetings and need to take some time away from the group. You may wish to make a quiet space available for all girls during meetings. 

Create an accessible programme 

Be flexible with your programme so young carers can still achieve badges and awards if they're unable to attend every week.

Plan ahead 

Plan your programme ahead of time and share it with carers as early as possible. Having a copy of the planned activities in advance will help both young and adults carers to prioritise their time, giving them the opportunity to organise additional care.

Encourage them to stay involved 

For some adult carers, a regular commitment may be too much, so it's important to let them know all about our various volunteering opportunities. Keep young carer members in the loop with regular communications about meetings and events.

Financial support - young carers may struggle with guiding costs, so follow our guidance on supporting members from low income backgrounds.

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Your role as a trusted adult

A young carer may wish to talk to you as an adult that they trust and have regular contact with. They may also choose to speak with any young leaders in your unit, so make sure that you're available to support young leaders too.

This is an important responsibility, so if a girl turns to you for advice or support, make time to listen. If you're in the middle of a group activity, tell her that you'll carry on your conversation after the activity has ended. Make sure that you follow through with this and are consistent. Be honest and do your best to answer any questions that a girl might have - as long as it's appropriate for you to do so.

See our full guidance on safeguarding members.

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Supporting young carers

A young carer looks after someone in their family, or a friend, who is physically or mentally unwell, disabled or misuses drugs or alcohol. They balance these caring roles with their school, college or work, their own personal lives and their volunteering.

It's estimated that approximately 1 in 5 children have a caring role.

Young carers will do a lot more than the usual help at home tasks expected of children and young people. They might have responsibility for things which are necessary for the health, safety or wellbeing of others. They may:

  • Do practical support tasks such as cleaning, cooking, shopping, translating or financial management for their family or the person they care for.
  • Be involved in personal care, such as helping someone get cleaned and dressed, use the toilet or take medication.
  • Take on a significant emotional supportive role when the person they care for is feeling down, frustrated or needs support.
  • Help with childcare or looking after other family members.

Every caring situation is different. The reasons for needing support, the size and structure of the family and the other support the family and young carer is receiving can all be different from case to case. Some young carers will have continuous caring roles and for others the caring role will come and go depending on the needs of their families. So it’s important to approach each situation in a bespoke way and find out what your young members may be doing as carers.

Young carers often have deep and loving bonds with those they care for. They can be proud of the level of care they offer and the responsibilities they have. Whilst they may find the caring role demanding, it may not necessarily be a negative experience or something they see as a problem.

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Barriers for young carers taking part in Girlguiding

During 2019-20, The Children’s Society completed an extensive consultation with over 370 young carers in the UK about the barriers they face to accessing opportunities and extra-curricular activities like Girlguiding.

What are the barriers?

  • This was the biggest barrier, with young carers saying that their chores at home, babysitting, homework and caring responsibilities meant that they didn't have enough time to attend other activities or groups.
    'I just can't juggle it all.'
    'I'm not able to get out that often.'
  • Young carers also worried about going to extra-curricular activities because the person they cared for might need them and they would 'worry about what is going on at home'
  • Practical barriers, like the cost of clubs and groups, sports kit, equipment and lack of transport, also came up frequently.
    'I don't have anyone to take me.'
    'I don't feel safe on public transport or walking in the dark.'
  • Poor mental and physical health played a big part. Many young carers stated that they had anxiety, depression, a lack of confidence and low self-esteem. Weight, illness and special needs were also factors, as was 'being tired all the time'.

Young carers also explained that they worried about the judgement of other people. Struggling to make friends and being scared of meeting new people kept them from wanting to take part in opportunities outside of school.

What would young carers like unit leaders to know?

Above all, young carers said they wanted to be part of extra-curricular activities, but they couldn’t always be there because of their caring responsibilities. If they did attend, they wanted group leaders to 'have patience, understand and listen'.

Young carers also wanted unit leaders to know that they couldn’t always attend unit meetings, might be late or need to leave early because of their caring role. But this wasn't because they were uncommitted:

I might not be on time, but it doesn't mean I don't want to do it.

What they said included 'caring is stressful and tough' and 'I have a lot of responsibility'. Young carers may not be concentrating 100% of the time because they're thinking of those they care for at home and they need unit leaders to be understanding of their situation.

Young carers are excited to make new friends, but they might be nervous and lack confidence. 'It might take us a while to get used to the group and activity' so 'I'd like to meet some of the other young people in the group before I start.'

Young carer awareness webinar

Find out more about what it means to be a young carer, and the struggles they can face, with this webinar. Created with The Children's Society, this webinar is self-led, meaning you can work through the slides in your own time.

As you get to know new young members in your unit, ask about any caring roles. Invite them to share the kinds of responsibilities they have and what support they get or need.

Knowing about a caring role can help you to plan for their involvement in the unit. You and other volunteers will then be aware of their need for support and flexibility, and look out for any inappropriate caring circumstances (see below). If you record information about young carers in your unit it must be done securely in line with Girlguiding data protection guidance.

Many young carers won't recognise themselves as such or be aware that they've taken on more caring responsibilities than others their age. They might be worried about what will happen if people find out the amount of care work they do, or be embarrassed that someone they care for needs support.

Where young members feel respected, valued and listened to, they'll find it easier to share the difficult issues in their lives. Always using non-judgmental and empathetic language can help young members feel they can share with you and other leaders.

You may see signs that a young member is taking on caring responsibilities. For example:

  • Anxiety or concern over the person they care for.
  • A need to be in regular contact with their home or with others in their family
  • Often being late or missing from the unit.
  • You have unusually limited contact with the young member's parents or carer and they don't respond to your communications.

Where appropriate, try to have a conversation with the young member or talk to their family or primary carer.

Young carers can sometimes feel a conflict between the needs of the person they're helping and their own needs and aspirations. This can lead to feelings of guilt or resentment. For example, they may want to take on a more proactive role in the unit or go on a visit but worry that this will affect their caring role.

Helping young members to express themselves and talk about what they want to achieve or take part in is key. Try and offer flexibility about how they can get involved in guiding and avoid asking them to choose guiding over their caring responsibilities. For example you can:

  • Give them more time to complete badge and skill builder activities.
  • Give them plenty of time to plan ahead if going on a residential and allow flexibility on the days they take part.
  • Give them phone or texting opportunities through the unit meeting.

Some young carers can struggle to attend residentials or trips. They may have worries about the consequence for their family or the person they care for.

Try to work out why they feel they can’t join trips. Work with them and their family to find a practical solution. Agree a plan that reassures the young member there's support whilst they're away, and set out what level of contact they'll have with those at home.

When on a residential it may be that the young carer needs regular contact with home or their family. However, remember this is also an opportunity for the young member to have a break and be immersed in the guiding experience with her peers. Each situation will need to be handled sensitively and depending on the specific needs of the young member.

Generally, young carers have the right to information and to an assessment of the support they need from their local authority.

Depending on the level of care they offer, they may have (or may be entitled to have) a plan of how social services will help them and the person they're caring for. The law on support for young carers varies in each country of the UK. See The Carers Trust for details.  

There are many local projects which offer support to young carers. This can include access to specialist advice and information and an ability to take a break from caring roles. For details of local services, visit the Children’s Society website

A young carer can become vulnerable when the level of care they offer or are expected to take on becomes too much for them or the tasks expected are inappropriate. This can have a negative impact on their health and well-being, how they do at school and their ability to enjoy their childhood to the fullest.

If you have concerns about the level of care a child is offering or that the family would not cope without their support, you can speak to our safeguarding team [email protected].

Don’t presume that they're already accessing the support and services available to them.

You could help raise awareness of the young carers in your unit with some activities.

This can help young members identify if they or their friends are young carers and be more supportive of those with caring responsibilities. Carers Trust organise a national Young Carers Action Day every March. 

Information for young carers

Are you a young carer?

Are you under 18 and help to look after a relative with a disability, illness, mental health condition, or drug or alcohol problem? Or do you help them by looking after the other members of the family while they can't? Then you are a young carer.

'I didn't know that I was a young carer back then. I was just thinking, "I've got to deal with this."' Young carer, 15, The Children's Society

Having a disabled or ill guardian, parent, grandparent or sibling can make a difference to the way you feel and talk about things.

You may be taking on extra tasks like shopping, cooking and cleaning. You may also have to physically help the person you care for – to wash, get dressed or move about. You may be supporting their wellbeing and mental health.  

It can be hard work being a young carer. Sometimes other children or young people don't understand your responsibilities and why you have less free time than others.

Many young people cope well with caring, especially if you have support from other family members, but it's still important to look after yourself. You have the right to be looked after too. There are lots of places and people you can go to for help.

'Young carers are people who care for someone in their home, not by choice, but we volunteer to do it and because of that we meet amazing people.' Young carer, 15, The Children's Society

Young carers can face extra pressures and struggle to look after themselves, but it's so important that you take the time to look after yourself, your wellbeing and emotional and mental health. There's information and help out there.

The Children's Society's wellbeing pages for young carers explore why it's important for you to take care of your own wellbeing. It gives you lots more information and support and there's also a wellness plan that you could put together to help you in your caring role.

Here are some tips based on what other young carers have said:

  • Do things you enjoy and that help you relax:listen to music, write in a diary about how you're feeling or things that are worrying you, read a book or magazine, or watch your favourite show. You could try some yoga or meditation to relax, or have a bath or shower. Getting creative is a great way to take your mind off things – why not draw, paint, act, cook, bake, colour, garden or craft?
  • Stay connected: it's important that you talk to people about how you're feeling. This could be with people in your house – or friends, family and those you trust. Face-to-face is great, and so is talking on the phone a video call, email, text or even via post!
  • Keep healthy: try to eat healthily and do some kind of exercise every day. Daily physical activity is important for your health and wellbeing and can help you to manage stress, sleep better and feel more positive.
  • Be aware of times when you don't feel yourself:perhaps you could write down what's made you feel like that (if you know) and try and think what can help you to feel more positive. If you make a note of it, you can come back to it next time.
  • Ask for help if you need it: remember it's OK to share your concerns with others you trust (those in your family, your unit leader, school or a trusted adult).

Support for young carers

As a young carer you can find helping someone very rewarding, but you also have the right to be looked after. You're entitled to an assessment of your own needs and how your caring role may impact your own health and worries.

If you're under 18 and are a young carer you can request or be referred for an assessment of your needs under the Children and Families Act 2014. This can support you to talk and think about what you could be offered, or what support could be offered to the person you care for, to reduce your caring role.

When you're ready to start thinking about the future you can also be offered a 'transition assessment' under the Care Act 2014. This is a chance for you to discuss what you want for the future, including whether you go into higher education or employment and what support you'll need for you or for the person you care for to achieve your goals. 

We don't want any barriers to get in the way of you taking part in Girlguiding activities for further support. Please do get in touch with your unit leader.

Worrying about a loved one and how you're going to care for them can put a real strain on your day-to-day life. And when it comes to managing money things can get even tougher.

Visit the Children's Society's advice pages to learn about the financial support available for young carers and how you can access this funding.

Young carers projects

Remember that there are other children and young people out there who've been through similar experiences to you.

Young carers can meet other young carers and be supported by local young carer's projects that are run by various organisations nationally. For more information visit the Children's Society's pages for young carers.

  • Carers Trust- provides information, advice and support for carers and lots of information about young carers and those working with them.
  • Babble- an online community for young carers
  • Al-anon- provides support for those affected by alcohol.
  • Al-ateen- provides support for teenage relatives and friends of alcoholics.
  • MindEd- online learning platform about child and youth mental health with a pathway for Girlguiding volunteers.
  • The Children’s Society- there's a range of information and practical guidance on working directly with young carers and their families.
  • KIDS- work exclusively with carers under the age of 18 offering groups providing support, advice and information.
  • Childline- provide information tailored for young carers and how they can get support.

Get advice on including all

Contact us for more information and advice about including all girls and volunteers in guiding.

Email us