AFF Health & Additional Needs Specialist Karen Ross has been looking at what it means to be a young carer in the armed forces community…
MORE than 800,000 children and young people across the UK, some as young as five, are caring for family members. The Children’s Society study on young carers in the armed forces obtained data indicating that there are 512 young carers in military families, but this is thought to be underestimated.
If you’re under 18 and regularly help care for a family member with an illness, additional need or disability, you are a young carer.
Care can include cooking, cleaning and helping someone wash and dress. If you are 16-25 you will be considered an adult young carer. Many children and young people don’t think of themselves young carers, despite caring for a family member.
Grace is 12 and lives with her brothers Jacob and Adam, who has autism. She helps to look after him and Jacob when her parents go out and helps Adam with his homework, packed lunch and getting him ready for school – but she doesn’t regard herself as a young carer.
“I find the term to be very formal, almost as if referring to someone who’s in no way related to Adam,” she told Army&You. “I’m just a sister trying to help my younger brother. Sure, it isn’t easy – and sometimes we fight like cat and dog – but it’s also a joy as he is so clever, funny and super talented.
“I’m not ashamed to say Adam has autism because we are family and I love him.”
The impact of caring
Caring can impact on general and mental health, education, life opportunities and social life. Evidence suggests that young carers are more likely to be bullied in school and miss an average of 48 days of lessons each year.
Young adult carers are more likely not to be in education, employment or training.
For young carers in the army community there’s the added impact of frequent moves, changes of school and long periods of separation from the serving parent.
Grace has experienced some negativity herself: “When I was joining a new school, there were many questions and rude remarks from children about Adam and his autism. Overall, I’m not embarrassed to talk openly about his condition, he’s absolutely remarkable.”
The Children and Families Act details the rights of young carers and states that local authorities must assess whether a young carer requires support and identify their needs. If under 18, young carers have a right to a carer’s assessment.
Support in schools
The Young Carers in Schools (YCiS) programme is run jointly by The Children’s Society and Carers Trust and aims to make it easy for schools to identify and support their young carers, and be rewarded for good practice.
The Children’s Society provides tools, an e-newsletter, training for professionals and an award, while the Carers Trust’s step-by-step guide contains resources for leaders, teachers and non-teaching staff.
An important element of the YCiS programme is that it encourages a whole-school approach, which ensures a supportive and non-stigmatising ethos. Army young carers may struggle to tell their peers about their caring role, or the impact that having a serving family member has on them, so by encouraging this sort of atmosphere, a young person is more likely to seek help.
Grace admitted she doesn’t ask for support because she feels many people don’t understand how to help or aren’t aware of disabilities such as autism: “I feel that many people only notice disabilities that can be recognised easily.
“If I needed support, I would probably ask my parents, find a group of people that know what it’s like, or talk to one girl I know at school who also has an autistic brother.”
One outcome of The Children’s Society’s report is the creation of a steering group for armed forces young carers, which will help identify and support their unique needs. They’re also developing specific resources and a toolkit.
Several initiatives have also been developed to support carers in the armed forces community. Jill Baines, charity executive of Andover Young Carers in Hampshire, told us: “When I arrived here a lot of young carers with military connections were hidden, even if identified and supported by us or other organisations, links hadn’t been established with the Army Welfare Service (AWS) or veteran charities.
“We’ve had an initial meeting with AWS to raise awareness of our work, and we hope to increase access to our services. I’m designing some marketing materials to send to local schools with military children.”
Wiltshire and Suffolk also have specific ‘military families leads’ providing support, while NHS England has appointed a leadership support manager who oversees carers from armed forces communities.
If you have a young carer in your army family and need support, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org