How can we support young carers in education settings?
13 Nov 2017
There’s lots we can do to improve experiences for school pupils who look after family members. Louise Morgan, who is leading an event on the topic next month, explains
Young carers. You’ve heard about them but do you really know who they are, and how you can support them? I hope that I can provide you with some answers!
I’ve been working with young carers and the services supporting them for the past 15 years, as a local service development worker and now as Co-ordinator for the Scottish Young Carers Services Alliance. In that time, I’ve come to learn a lot about this group of young people. I feel I’m still learning every day.
I’m really pleased that over the past 15 years the profile of young carers in Scotland has risen and been kept to the fore. This has happened first through the national strategy for young carers, Getting It Right for Young Carers, and the Carers Act (Scotland) 2016. The Act will be implemented in April 2017. All of this has been achieved through consultation with young carers.
For the past 10 years young carers in Scotland have had the benefit of being able to attend the annual Young Carers Festival, an event fully funded by the Scottish Government. Year on year, we have heard directly from young carers about their experiences of attending school and how they perceive the support they receive there. Unfortunately, year on year, the report card has not been too good as far as education goes.
Young carers tell us that they miss out on schooling sometimes because they have to care for someone at home. They feel that they need teachers to have more understanding of what being a young carer can mean, and of the responsibilities they have to deal with. Conversely, they will also tell us that their school doesn’t know that they are a young carer! It can therefore be difficult for teachers to be able to identify who these young people are. And if you don’t know who they are, how can you support them?
There are of course, the tell-tale signs. Kids who are regularly late for school, or who haven’t completed homework assignments on time, or whose parents aren’t able to attend parents’ night. But just think about it. The children you know with additional support needs are likely to have brothers and sisters who provide care at home. Then there are those who are caring for a parent with an illness or disability or addiction issue.
Through our network of support services, we know that there are some excellent examples of work being done in schools to support young carers. The best practice happens when the young carers service has a dedicated staff member to work with teachers and schools in their area. Teaching staff in those areas tend to have good awareness of the issues impacting on young carers. Outcomes improve when schools in turn appoint a dedicated member of staff to be the point of contact for young carers. Liaison between school and the young carers service is important. Noticeboards in schools giving information about the local young carers service can also be useful. So is good information exchange during transition from primary to secondary school.
One of my favourite examples of practice is where all secondary schools in one local authority area actually run a Young Carers Class. This is timetabled for all young carers who wish to attend.
I don’t want to give away all our secrets here so I’d urge you to come along to our seminar on 6th December. Myself and colleagues can tell you more about good practice and how to help this particular group of children and young people get more out of their school experience and achieve their potential.
Louise Morgan is Carers Trust Scotland’s Development Manager