All schools should be required to have a staff lead to do the same for young carers as SENCos do for those with special educational needs, a group of MPs has said.
The all-party parliamentary group for young carers and young adult carers warned many children with caring responsibilities were not being identified by schools or councils, leading to a “postcode lottery of support”.
The 2021 national census identified 127,176 young carers, which itself is “likely an
underestimation” because parents filling it out may not correctly identify their children as carers.
In contrast, this year’s school census, which asked for information on young carers for the first time, identified just 38,983, with 79 per cent of schools recording that they had no young carers on roll whatsoever.
The APPG report called for new guidance and awareness-raising campaigns to “support earlier identification and a whole-setting approach to support young carers within schools, colleges and universities”.
This should include a “requirement for all education institutions to have a staff lead for young carers as with pupils with SEND”.
Children wait years for support
The report warned that as many as 15,000 children, including 3,000 aged just five to nine, spend 50 hours or more a week looking after family members.
Some are being “left to cope alone for 10 years before being identified, while the average waiting time to get support is three years”.
The APPG called for a cross-government national carers strategy, with a “dedicated section and resourced action plan relating to young carers and young adult carers”.
This strategy would focus on priorities identified through the inquiry, such as the need for training and dedicated staff in education settings.
These professionals “should have strategic responsibility and oversight for identifying and implementing appropriate support for young carers and student carers”.
The report pointed to previous research showing how young carers faced “distinct challenges in their attendance, attainment and experiences within education settings”.
For example, research by Mytime found young carers in a local pilot missed on average 27 school days per academic year. And the Children’s Society found young carers performed worse in their GCSEs than peers without a caring role.
‘Inflexibility’ in schools a ‘common theme’
A lack of awareness of caring roles by education professionals “leads to the inflexibility of schools in responding to the impact of caring on studies”, the report warned.
This was a “common theme in the evidence we received. Young carers also highlighted the need for greater awareness amongst other young people in schools”.
Conservative MP Duncan Baker, who chaired the inquiry, said it heard “truly concerning evidence from young carers and those who support them”.
“Some young children spend 50 hours a week caring, while young adult carers have their chances of getting good GCSE results, going to university or getting a job drastically reduced by their caring role.
“The wildly uneven support available across the country shows an urgent need for the government and Parliament to work together to transform the landscape.”
Margaret Mulholland, SEND and inclusion specialist at the ASCL leaders’ union, said the report “lays bare the difficulties faced by young carers”.
“Schools do everything they can to support all of their pupils but it’s clear that there is more work to do and we support calls for a national carers strategy.”
Additional training for staff working in education “would also be welcome, provided it is backed with necessary funding”.