Nearly a quarter of a million children in England and Wales are caring for a relative, new statistics show.
Figures from the ONS suggest 244,000 people under 19 are carers, of which about 23,000 are under nine years old.
Children who are carers are more likely to develop special educational needs on account of the educational opportunities they may miss. Typically child carers miss more of their education and take more time off than other children.
Whilst these children tend to be from families with a lower financial income, they also tend to be unwell more often. This could be in part due to stress and lack of sleep, depending on the pressures of the care routine that they have to undertake.
Child carers with younger siblings may find for example, that they are not just caring for a parent. They may also need to cook, assist and organise a younger brother or sister if the parent is unable to fulfil these tasks.
To prevent a child carer from missing out on meeting their full potential and damaging their job prospects in the future, it’s important that teachers are aware of the child’s circumstances and if they are not, have an idea of the indicators that a child is caring for someone at home.
A child who is taking more time off sick than the average number of days, missing deadlines in school (such as getting homework completed on time), appears tired very often or oversleeps, causing them to be late for school on more occasions than you would expect from the average child, may all be indicators of a child who is caring for someone else at home.
Initially it would be worth talking with other teachers who have contact with the child – are they witnessing the same things as you and do they know anymore about the family? Can you reach out to the family and find out what support they are getting? This could be a particularly sensitive subject. Some people do not want outside help. If this is the case, draw the parents attention to the impact that the current lifestyle is having upon the child’s academic abilities and future. Offer reassurance and explain that you want to help the child achieve their full potential.
Sometimes getting help can be a slow process. The family may have to undergo assessments from social workers or health professionals before they get the help, or additional funding to help allocated to them. It’s important that they are both patient and persistent.
If a family is able to get better support and assistance, it’s important that the child remains involved in this transition, after all they feel a great sense of duty towards the parent or sibling they have been caring for.
Make sure that the child is reassured that their parent or sibling will be in safe hands, that they did a great job in caring for them and that in changing their focus towards their school work, they are not being in anyway unreasonable or selfish.
By Gemma Bailey www.NLP4Kids.org/gemma-bailey