Barbara Schuler questions whether reforming the laws in relation to carers will really improve life for young carers
Whenever someone wants to cite a disadvantaged group of young people who our society is failing, young carers are usually near the top of the list. Recently, however, this group has been getting some long overdue attention from the Scottish Youth Parliament whose Care.Fair.Share campaign is urging the Scottish Government to ease the financial strain facing young carers.
Yet more attention is being shone on these issues thanks to the Scottish Government’s consultation on legislation in relation to carers. However, is there a risk that young carers will continue to be overlooked?
Research suggests there are around 100,000 young people providing care to family members, yet only 3,500 are officially recognised as carers. Identification is important, not least because young carers may be struggling to get by without adequate support.
Ideally, no child or young person should be a carer. That isn’t to say that caring can’t have positive aspects but sadly, being a young carer is associated with a range of negative outcomes. In the worst case scenarios it can deprive young people of their freedom to be young, have fun and spend time with friends. In many cases, caring can place young people under undue stress and take a toll on their own mental and physical wellbeing.
In the worst case scenarios caring can deprive young people of their freedom to be young, have fun and spend time with their friends
So, will the new proposals do anything to help young carers? Well, possibly, but there are some inconsistencies with the approach being put forward. The move to rebrand carer’s assessments as carer’s support is welcome, as assessment has rather negative overtones.
However, young carers won’t be eligible for a support plan, as it’s for adults only. The assumption is that young carers will be assessed to see if they are eligible for a child’s plan under the new Children and Young People Act, which has just gained royal assent.
However, not all young carers will be eligible for a child’s plan. So, where does that leave them?
The concern is that many young carers will be left in limbo, unidentified and unable to access support.
As a way around this, might it be better to introduce young carer’s support plans?
It could help to identify young carers as a group and would provide a more targeted response to their very specific needs.
It would also make sense for support plans for cared-for adults to take account of whether they are a parent, and ensure that adequate support is provided so children will not be expected to take on caring responsibilities. Named persons and child’s plans should, in turn, take account of the health of parents, siblings and grandparents.
The proposals state that the Scottish Government has decided not to go down the route of family-based assessments. The argument is that it would be difficult to legislate for this type of assessment, although individual assessments can cross-reference each other.
This approach means the needs of the whole family will not be looked after in a holistic way and there is a risk that young carers’ needs will be overlooked.
Young carer’s support plans, alongside a statutory requirement for local areas to develop young carer’s strategies, would arguably be more effective in identifying and then supporting young carers. Given that the Scottish Government has commissioned a young carers’ rights charter, would it not be more consistent to have young carer’s support plans too?
Barbara Schuler is a policy officer at YouthLink Scotland.