Supporting young carers
How guiding can support young people with caring responsibilities
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 is 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.
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?
- Time. 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 was not 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 are 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 will not recognise themselves as such or be aware that they have 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 will 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 do not 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 are 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 is support whilst they are away, and set out what level of contact they will 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 are 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 are 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.
The Children’s Society - There is 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.