ALL SCHOOLS IN NORTHERN IRELAND URGED TO HELP IDENTIFY AND
SUPPORT YOUNG CARERS
Pictured (L-R) Young carers Joel, Kesiah and Aaron with their poster (right)
The Department of Education has partnered with Action for Children Northern Ireland to distribute a poster designed by Young Carers to all primary and secondary schools in Northern Ireland.
The Initiative comes in response to a campaign started by a group of Young Carers who wanted to create more awareness within schools of what being in a caring role is like and the impact it can have on their educational and social experiences.
The poster was designed by three siblings – Aaron (13), Joel (10) and Kesiah (9) – who are young carers for their older brother Christian (14). It was launched at an event on Monday (January 29) at Action for Children’s Head Office, Loughshore House, alongside colleagues from Barnardo’s NI.
A young carer is someone 18 years old or under who helps look after a relative with a disability, illness, mental health condition, or drug or alcohol problem. Some children begin giving care from a very young age, and others become carers overnight. There are also many young adult carers that try to juggle a caring role with their own education and early employment journeys, that also often need some extra support.
There are currently over 17,500 unpaid carers aged under 25 in Northern Ireland that we know of, however there are likely to be more because they are often hard to identify. This figure makes up roughly 8% of Northern Ireland’s carer population and includes more than 2,500 carers aged under 15, and 550 carers under the age of 10 years old1.
Surveying young carers across the Belfast, South and South-Eastern Trust, Action for Children found that less than one in six (16%) of young people who take on a caring role feel that their schools support them2. Many of them feel that most teachers don’t know what a young carer does each day or how it impacts their ability to learn.
For most children, getting into school is a case of rolling out of bed and hoping to grab a slice of toast on the way out the door, but for a young carer their day often starts hours before the school bell rings.
But a young carer takes on an average of 25 hours of unpaid work per week to support their family through various duties and tasks that keep a household running. They often forgo extra-curricular activities, struggle to find time to do homework and carry worries and concerns many other children may not need to manage.
Aisling Reynolds, Services Manager for Action for Children Young Carers, has taken the lead in ensuring schools better understand and support the role of young carers. Aisling said: “It’s evident that a school’s awareness and level of support for a young carer can make a huge difference to not only their experience in education, but their confidence, self-esteem and ability to progress further.
“By launching this school poster, our hope is that young carers can recognise their caring role and see that there is support in the community for them. Educators can also access and receive information on how to support young carers in their classrooms, enhancing the experience of young people with caring responsibilities in schools across Northern Ireland.”
Welcoming the launch, Dr Mark Browne, Permanent Secretary for the Department of Education, said: “The challenges of balancing school with the demands of providing physical care, personal care and emotional support to family members on a daily basis cannot be underestimated.
“I hope that by providing this Young Carers in Education Digital Awareness Pack to educational settings and highlighting this issue, we can help to facilitate a better understanding around the role of young carers, the challenges they face and support available.”
Chloe, a Young Carer previously supported by Action for Children while still at school attended Monday’s launch. She was part of the original group that started the campaign and said: “If this poster was in school when I was in school, it would’ve made a difference for me”.
Eileen Maguire, Manager of Barnardo’s NI Young Carers service said: “Young people with caring responsibilities have all the challenges of being young, with all the responsibilities of being an adult, and they’re often left to face these alone.”
“The young carers we work with at Barnardo’s NI are an incredible bunch of people and I am reminded daily of their resilience and compassion. By getting this information into schools, we hope it will help identify more young carers who need support.”