It’s 8.35am and in a group of 220 S1 pupils in a school in Edinburgh, very few raise their hands when asked “have you heard of the phrase ‘young carer’ before?”. They are surprised to realise that young carers are children and young people, the same age as them, who are having to engage in education, study or employment, who try to find time for fun and socialising, and yet at the same time, provide emotional and physical care to someone at home.
There are murmurs throughout the room when they hear how because of someone else’s illness, disability, mental health difficulties or drug or alcohol abuse, young carers are taking on roles at home that can have a big impact on them, affecting their own emotional health and wellbeing. Young carers themselves voice their opinions regularly about how important it is for other young people and professionals to find out about young carers, to understand what life is like for them, but also to understand that life in their shoes can be a positive experience.
My role as Schools Project Manager with Edinburgh Young Carers involves delivering awareness-raising assemblies like this in schools on an almost daily basis. It also paves the way for young carers to self-identify. Many young carers and their families see the young person’s role at home as a normal part of family life, not realising that there is support available. There is a need to undertake concerted awareness raising with professionals as well, providing them with the skills, knowledge and confidence needed to identify and support young carers. So often where my day starts with an assembly, it also ends delivering training at a staff meeting, CAT session or other CPD opportunity.
The pupils I speak to at school always tell me that one of the best things about hearing about young carers is knowing how they could support a friend who might find themselves in this situation. The pictures they see of young carers accessing our support services at Edinburgh Young Carers lets them see how with the right help, young carers can feel valued, supported and know that they have a place where they can leave behind the stresses and responsibilities of home and just have fun. All young carers are children first and foremost, and as stated by Article 31 of the UNCRC, they have the right to have fun, play and relax in the way they want to.
When young carers (age 5-20 years old) engage with Edinburgh Young Carers, they are involved in determining the support that will be most valuable to them, which can include 1-1 support, group support, play therapy, counselling, access to support from our specialist drug and alcohol service and transition support, as well as opportunities for residentials, holiday programmes and young adult carer services. What do they get more than anything else from the service? Peer support; and the knowledge that there are others going through similar things, and other young people who understand their feelings.
This is the year when the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016, will take effect, providing local authorities to prepare Young Carer Statements for young carers identified, or who request an assessment. The Act will also give local authorities a duty to support young carers who meet published eligibility criteria, and the power to support all young carers. Today is also Young Carer Awareness Day, an annual event with the aim to encourage everyone to think about young carers, how they could raise awareness of, identify and support them – in any way. If you haven’t already, why not follow us on Twitter @EYCP and help to spread the word.
At 8.50am, the assembly is finished and 220 pupils make their way out of their assembly hall to their first class of the day, many having heard about young carers for the first time, but what we hope, through ongoing work with schools across Edinburgh, will not be the last time.
25th January 2018