The county’s “invisible” band of carers – children and young people – are being celebrated and supported by Hertfordshire County Council for Young Carers Awareness Day this Thursday (January 31).
Spearheaded by the Carers Trust, the day is aimed at raising awareness and understanding of young carers under 18 by highlighting the challenges they face in caring for their loved ones, and recognising their vital contributions to family life.
Hertfordshire County Council’s aim is to identify and provide support for young people and individual families as early as possible in order to address the negative impacts of inappropriate or excessive caring roles.
Support is provided through Families First, the collective name for early help services in Hertfordshire, and delivered by Children’s Services, working in partnership with a range of organisations such as GPs, schools and mental health teams.
Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Families, Teresa Heritage said: “We want every young person in Hertfordshire to have a happy, healthy and safe childhood, creating a firm foundation for a fulfilling future into adulthood.
“Becoming a young carer brings additional responsibilities to young shoulders which can have very negative long-term impacts on lives. As well as being at increased risk of developing mental health issues, young carers can fall behind in their studies at school, adversely affecting their educational attainment and future prospects.
“This is why it is so important for families experiencing difficulties to get in touch as early as possible to access the support available to individual families and young people which is delivered through a range of our partner organisations. The young people concerned are often reluctant to ask for help, but we want them to know they are not alone and that help is available.”
The latest census figures from 2011 revealed that approximately 3,900 children and young people in Hertfordshire were providing unpaid care to their parents, siblings or family members due to physical, mental ill-health, disability or addiction to drugs or alcohol.
Carers Trust maintains that the number of ‘identified’ young carers is likely to be the tip of the iceberg, as many remain ‘invisible’ – hidden from support services and with schools often unaware of their existence.
Being a young carer can have a detrimental impact on normal day-to-day life, with the Carers Trust findings showing that one in 20 young carers will miss school because of their caring role, leading to a significantly lower educational attainment.
The Families First approach is to work with the whole family and offer additional support as early as possible, working in partnership with organisations including family centres, schools, colleges, GPs, mental health services and social care teams.