When someone within a family has an illness, mental health condition, disability or misuses drugs or alcohol, the children within that family often have to care for that person or other family members. Schools can be unaware of these circumstances which can make it difficult to offer the right support to the children in these families.

How can mental health leads support young carers?

Senior Mental Health Leads can take a more active role in identifying young carers within their school, putting targeted interventions in place to protect their mental health, and making the school feel more accessible to young carers and their families.

Adults care for children. That’s the way we think of society and this nurturing of children and young people by their caregiver gives them a safe space to grow and to flourish.

But what about children who care for others? Some of the space they need to flourish is taking up with caring responsibilities. Young carers are exceptional young people they are incredibly resilient, but their overall sense of wellbeing can still be affected by the worry and responsibility that comes from looking after someone else. In schools we have a duty of care to these young people, to try and understand their responsibilities and support them in every way we can to protect their mental health and give them the best chance of success in life. 

Research conducted by The Children’s Society reveals that young carers have a higher risk of developing mental health problems than their peers and are twice as likely to find themselves unemployed as adults. 

Worth-it have provided targeted support programmes and coaching interventions for young carers and young carers organisations over a number of years. Recently we have been commissioned by MYTIME, a charity which specialises in supporting young carers, to deliver coaching directly to some of the young people they work with. We recently spoke with Krista Sharp. Krista used to be a teacher at a secondary school and is undertaking a PhD researching effective ways for schools to support young carers, alongside her role as CEO at MYTIME. 

What makes young carers more at risk of developing mental health problems?

A young carer is a child, just like any other. The only difference is that young carers are responsible for the care of at least one member of their family, though they may be as young as 5 years old themselves. These children work incredibly hard to take care of their loved ones, yet they represent a largely forgotten community. 

Young carers experience greater responsibilities than other young people. One of the young carers we work with, Georgina** cares for her mother who has epilepsy. Georgina’s mum regularly fits which can last for a long time. Recently, while her mum was preparing dinner, she had a fit and had a kitchen knife in her hand. Georgina had to try to safely remove the knife while her mum was fitting, make her safe while she continued to fit and then administer first aid whilst waiting for the paramedics to arrive. Georgina is 8 years old. 

This example helps to highlight the pressure that some young carers are under. These children are taking on responsibilities that adults would find difficult to cope with. Often young carers report that they have shared their situations with teachers and other school staff, yet they are not believed. They don’t feel like anyone understands their situation or what they’re going through so they feel isolated, which can then negatively impact their mental health. 

** not the real name of the young carer involved. 

What kind of support do young carers need?

They need understanding, more time to do things sometimes as so much of their time is taken up with caring responsibilities. And to be understood they need to be recognised. We’re doing a lot of work with schools in identifying young carers. We go into schools and hold assemblies and talk with the children about who young carers are. For some children this is the first time they might recognise themselves as a young carer and realise that their situation is different from their classmates. 

How do you identify someone as a young carer?

There are a number of indicators that could help school staff identify a young person has a caring role. When we deliver training in schools these are the things we ask staff to look out for:

  • Difficulty concentrating due to anxiety or worrying 
  • Being late or regularly absent 
  • Tiredness
  • Lack of time for homework 
  • Poor attainment 
  • Behavioural issues such as anger and frustration
  • Lack of time for extra-curricular activities
  • Isolation
  • Embarrassment about family context
  • Limited social skills or preferring to spend time with adults 
  • Low self-esteem
  • Signs of neglect 

How do you think coaching supports young carers?

Coaching supports young carers to look forward to the future, to look at their strengths and build on these. One to one coaching gives young carers precious time with someone outside their family who can listen without judgement and work with the young person to set themselves goals and increase their confidence and over all sense of wellbeing. Coaching can help young carers feel a bit more in control of their own lives when they may feel normally that their lives are entirely controlled by their circumstances and caring responsibilities. This is why we commissioned Worth-it to deliver coaching directly to some of our young carers as part of our level-up project

What kind of things can a school do to support young carers? Any practical tips?

Early interventions are vital to protect their mental health and wellbeing, so that young people feel supported from an early age. It’s important to identify young carers and for them to recognise themselves as such. It is also important for all adults who work with young carers to understand the challenges they may face and to listen to young carers if they share their concerns. The assemblies we hold are about giving information to all pupils and students so peers can offer support too. Peer to peer support and coaching can be valuable ways of supporting young carers. Also giving teachers and school staff the strategies, they need support to support young carers.

What do MYTIME do to support young carers?

AT MYTIME, it is our mission to level the playing field for young carers and young adult carers everywhere by providing them with the support, opportunities, and friendship that every child needs and deserves. The children and young adults we help range from 5-25, and we exist to champion and empower them to reach their full personal, academic and professional potential. 

Mohammed, Age 10:
  "Sometimes people don't understand what we do and they judge us. That's when we get bullied. But here, everyone understands."

We offer days out, residential retreats and run an Employability Programme. Alongside our work with young carers, MYTIME are also working to educate employers about the number of young people affected by caring responsibilities and the challenges they face, as well as the wealth of skills they have to offer.

To find out more about young carers and how you can support them in your school, come along to Worth-it’s Discovery Workshop where Krista will be sharing more insights and strategies to help protect the mental health of young carers and build . Find out more about MYTIME here. It’s Young Carers Action Day 2022 on 16th March. Visit their website to access lots of free resources to help you get involved.

Worth-it trains offers coaching training for people who work with young people and we also train people to train young people as Wellbeing Ambassadors so they can support peers in their school.

Supporting Mental Health Leads provide targeted prevention

In our Wellbeing Club for SMHL's we have regular guest expert workshops related to all aspects of school wellbeing. You can access these helpful workshops in the course library inside our private Wellbeing Club membership. To find out how you can access funding to join our Wellbeing Club programme access our FREE funding information session.

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