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Young Carers

Volume 782: debated on Thursday 23 March 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in ensuring that children and young people who care for family members are identified and supported.

My Lords, we introduced changes to the Children and Families Act 2014 to ensure that local authorities identify needs and assess and support young carers. We have considered recently published research and are exploring policy avenues to help local authorities, schools and professionals to improve young carers’ identification and support. We will be setting out our vision and future plans in the cross-government carers strategy, led by the Department of Health, to be published later this year.

I think the Minister for that response. Is he aware of any more accurate figures of the sheer numbers of children and young people who care for family members with disabilities and those with mental disabilities? Barnardo’s has estimated that it is somewhere in the region of 200,000, possibly more. Can he say whether, in the strategy that will be published, health professionals will be trained to identify children who are carers? Can he also say what is being done about 16 to 18 year-olds who are twice as likely as their peer group to not be in employment or education? What support will they get to reach their full potential?

My Lords, we have supported various programmes in this regard, such as the Suffolk Family Carers programme, to raise awareness of young carers among teachers and other staff. We have focused on embedding a whole family approach to this issue and have trained school nurses to be champions for young carers. As I say, we will set out further proposals in the carers strategy. I agree entirely with the noble Baroness: although we collect some data centrally, we need to work harder to collect data and identify young carers wherever they are.

My Lords, I know the Minister will agree with me that there is deep concern when you meet young carers that some of them do not want the teachers to tell children’s services about them in case that leads to care proceedings. Will the Minister assure the House that in the new strategy everything will be done to tell and reassure young carers that the state services are there to support them, not to add to the burden that they carry?

The noble Lord makes an extremely good point. I know from experience that this can be a very sensitive issue with children, who may not wish even to tell anybody that they have these responsibilities. Our training of school nurses can help greatly with this.

My Lords, would it not be a good idea for young carers to be given a statement setting out the support mechanisms that would be put in place to support them and their families?

Again, I make the point that the first step is to identify them. The Children and Families Act now places an obligation on local authorities to assess their needs and support them, where they request it. However, we need to do more to identify them in the first place.

My Lords, I remind the noble Lord’s department that some young carers do not identify themselves with the words “caring” or “carer” if they care for a disabled parent. The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, has confirmed this. They undertake this caring as a matter of course and have done so all their lives. They need to be identified but they may not know the word “carer”.

The noble Baroness makes a very good point. Again, our guidance to schools is helpful in this regard. As I say, the work we are doing with schools and school nurses will, I hope, make sure that all pupils are aware of what the terminology means.

My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of Dying Matters. Do the Government accept the figure that approximately 10% of schoolchildren are bereaved, a third of those of a parent or sibling, and that many of them have cared for that person during their final illness and, after death, often provide care and support for the other bereaved members of the family? Will the whole House join me in expressing the most sincere condolences to the two children who were bereaved because their mother was killed yesterday on Westminster Bridge?

I agree entirely with the noble Baroness on child bereavement. I suffered from that myself and share the sympathy that she expresses.

My Lords, further to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, do general practitioners as a matter of course annotate their records where there is a child carer looking after a patient?

I am afraid that I do not know the answer to that question but I shall talk to the Department of Health and write to my noble friend.

My Lords, the Children’s Commissioner recently reported that four out of five young carers were not receiving support from their local authority and that not enough local authorities take steps to identify children in their area who may be providing care. Too often, it seems that funding under the Care Act is used for assessment purposes rather than providing support and activities that would allow young carers to enjoy some aspects of the childhood that every child surely should have. Will the Minister say what steps the Government are taking to ensure that young carers receive appropriate assessment and support, no matter where they live, through inspection and other forms of monitoring?

The noble Lord makes a very good point. We welcome the Children’s Commissioner’s report. We have just concluded our analysis of its findings and are considering what more we can do. We know that many local authorities are making great progress in their data analysis and capabilities but, as the noble Lord says, there is more for us to do. We are considering that in the light of the Children’s Commissioner’s report.

My Lords, will the Minister undertake to ensure that psychiatric nurses treating patients are very careful? Often they have responsibility for doing what is best for the parent in a case of severe and distressing mental illness, but sometimes no one looks to the needs of the child, who may be in a home with a parent in an extremely distressing state. Surely there should be somebody there to protect the child from what can be a rather frightening and very paranoid parent.

As I am sure the noble Baroness knows, we are working with the Department of Health to commission a major countrywide thematic review of children and adolescent mental health. We will bring forward a new Green Paper on children and young people’s mental health, and I shall certainly feed the noble Baroness’s comments into that thinking.