National carers strategy

Unpaid care is vital to how social care is provided in Scotland, and the value of the dedication and expertise of carers cannot be overstated. This strategy sets out a range of actions to ensure they are supported fully in a joined up and cohesive way.

5. Young Carers

Strategic outcomes

  • Young carers are supported and protected from inappropriate caring and negative impacts on their education, social lives and future opportunities.
  • Young adult carers are supported when moving from education to training and work while balancing an ongoing caring role.

Why this is important

Caring can be a positive experience for many young people, where they are supported to manage that role appropriately, and to have a life alongside it. Through caring, young people often develop skills and values, as well as a sense of pride and increased self-esteem from their role.[38] There are an estimated 28,000 young carers in Scotland under the age of 18 although this is generally regarded as an underestimate. Young carers often go above and beyond what is expected of them as young people.

However, caring can also put pressure on young people, especially where they undertake inappropriate caring responsibilities or spend long hours providing care. Without the right support, young carers are at risk of negative impacts on their educational attainment, relationships with their peer group and their mental health.

Young carers often find it challenging to recognise that they have additional responsibilities. Many have grown up with caring being part of their family dynamic and these extra tasks can feel normal to them.[39] Sometimes families or young people will have concerns about potential negative repercussions of social work intervention[40], leading to young carers actively avoiding seeking help or support.

Research also shows that young carers feel that their experiences and knowledge about the cared-for person are often overlooked by professionals, leaving them feeling excluded and undermined.[41] There can also be stigma associated with a younger person undertaking a caring role. Coupled with a lack of awareness or support for their caring role, this can leave young people feeling lonely and isolated.

The impact of all of these factors is that many young people who are providing care do not self-identify as a carer.

Evidence shows that young carers have poorer physical and mental wellbeing than non-carers, and are more likely to live in the most deprived areas.[42] Young carers also report experiences of social isolation.[43]

Young people aged 16-18 are often at a transition point in their lives as they finish school, get their first job, or undertake further study and training. However, opportunities that are the norm for most young people can be restricted for young carers due to the additional responsibilities and pressures that come with caring.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic we consulted with young carers and organisations supporting them about the issues they faced, and how best we could help them. Many young carers benefit greatly from support from local young carer services. As restrictions have been removed, young carer services are now offering a mixture of face to face and online support. We continue to work closely with service managers and the national carer organisations to ensure that these services continue to have the resources they need to do this safely.

Many of the rights, policies and opportunities laid out in the preceding chapters also apply or are available to young carers. This chapter therefore highlights policies and approaches specific to young carers which contribute to recognising, valuing and involving carers, health and social care and financial and social inclusion.

How we will achieve this

Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC)

Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC)[44] is Scotland's approach to strengthening the wellbeing of every child and young person, including young carers who hold a caring role. A young carer is still entitled to the same support, protection and opportunities offered to other children. The principles and values at the core of the GIRFEC approach apply for young carers just as they do any other child.

GIRFEC is central to all government policies which support children, young people and their families and is delivered by encouraging service providers, third sector organisations and public bodies to work in collaboration with children, young people and their families. This will allow children and young people to achieve their full potential across all of the wellbeing indicators (sometimes known as "SHANARRI" indicators)[45], helping them to thrive and be able to better respond to the challenges and opportunities that life brings. GIRFEC also respects parents' rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).[46]

Recognising, valuing and involving young carers

Scottish Young Carers Festival

The Scottish Young Carers Festival[47] is an annual event that has taken place since 2008. It is funded by the Scottish Government and delivered on our behalf by Carers Trust Scotland and the Scottish Young Carers Services Alliance.

As well as enabling young carers from across Scotland to take a break from caring and have fun with their peers, the Festival gives young carers an opportunity to have their voices heard by talking to local and national decision makers about what matters to them and providing feedback for national consultations. In recent years, this has helped bring some key young carer issues to the fore and played a role in influencing national and local policy development.

Young carers are usually able to attend the Festival in a group from their local young carers service.

Young carers are also one of the target groups for youth arts and youth music funding delivered via Creative Scotland, including the Youth Music Initiative Funding and the 2020-21 Youth Arts Fund. These programmes have provided project funding for arts and music projects working with young carers in locations across Scotland.

We must support young carers to be able to have the same kinds of experiences and opportunities as young people who do not have caring responsibilities. Engagement so far has involved sessions at the Young Carer Festival, survey work and in depth facilitated conversations with children and young people.

Involving young carers in improving mental health support

As part of the ongoing work of the Children and Young People's Mental Health and Wellbeing Joint Delivery Board, the Scottish Government and COSLA are working together to improve mental health and wellbeing support for children and young people across Scotland. The voices and experiences of children, young people and their families/carers are a key part of our work to improve access to mental health support. This includes decision making, service design, delivery and evaluation.

Actions about recognising, valuing and involving young carers

We will continue to recognise and involve young carers as part of all of the actions highlighted in Chapter 2.

We will continue to support the Young Carers Festival where they will have the opportunity to engage with attendees and feed into future policy making.

We will continue to engage with young carers in order to improve mental health and wellbeing support.

We will work with Young Scot to develop a social media based awareness campaign to target young carers.

Health and social care support for young carers

Carers Act for young carers

The Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 introduced many of the same rights for young carers as it provides for adult carers. The Act gives young carers a right to a young carer statement. This involves an outcomes-based conversation about the young carer's personal circumstances and must include information about the impact of caring on their wellbeing and whether the care they provide is appropriate.

If any of the young carer's identified needs meet local eligibility criteria then they have a right to support to meet those needs. The authority must consider whether the young carer would benefit from a short break as part of this conversation.

The Act also includes duties to involve carers in individual and strategic decision making, as well as a duty for health boards to involve carers in decisions about the hospital discharge of the person they are caring for. We will continue to work with the Carers Rights and Support Steering Group bringing together carers, carer organisations, COSLA, integration authorities and others to support and guide Carers Act implementation.

Published summaries of young carers' rights under the Carers Act are:

To assist with the transition from young carer to adult carer, the Carers Act requires a young carer statement, and any support that comes from it, to be maintained until an adult carer support plan is prepared. We will continue to work with authorities to ensure that this is done consistently in a way that best supports the specific needs of each young carer.

Actions about health and social care for young carers

We will continue to provide health and social care support for young carers as part of the actions highlighted in Chapter 3.

We will continue to support work to ensure health and social care staff have the skills, knowledge and confidence to identify, support and involve young carers in line with the Carers Act.

Support in schools

We know that young carers often report feeling isolated, stigmatised, bullied and unsupported in schools due to their caring role and that caring can lead to increased absenteeism or lateness.[48] The following sections set out our actions to address this, including how we will work to make young carers aware of them.

Education authorities have duties to identify, provide for and review the additional support needs of all their pupils, and in particular young carers. This includes ensuring that there are the staff and resources in place to support them in their learning.

Education plays a unique role in identifying and supporting young carers. Education staff have a responsibility to support the wellbeing of every child and GIRFEC provides a framework for this. They need to take into consideration any wider influences on the child or young person when thinking about their wellbeing, so that the right support can be offered. This includes the impact of caring on a child or young person.

Anti-bullying in schools

Young carers are more likely to be bullied because of their caring role. The Bullying and Equalities Module on SEEMiS, the schools management information system, was updated to reflect the new approach. SEEMiS now allows schools to select 'young carer' as a perceived reason for bullying.

In November 2017, the Scottish Government published updated anti-bullying guidance: 'Respect for All: The National Approach to Anti-bullying for Scotland's Children and Young People'. We will continue to develop materials to support young carers in school.

Transitions from secondary education to higher and further education

Young carers may face particular pressures as they leave school and make the transition into college or university. At this key stage, it can also be especially hard to juggle this change with the demands of their caring role.

Education authorities have specific duties to prepare pupils with additional support needs for their post-school transition. This should happen no later than 2 years before they leave school.

Young people with additional support needs should engage personally in the transition planning process. It is good practice that whatever prospective school leavers require to learn in order to make the transition successful, should be planned carefully and in a timely manner.

We published an updated Additional support for learning: action plan and a joint Additional support for learning action plan: progress report.

Actions about support for young carers in schools and education

We will continue to support work to raise awareness of young carers in schools by funding a full time Education Officer post with Carers Trust Scotland and working closely with NHS Education for Scotland.

We will help young carers secure the use of their own rights under additional support for learning legislation via the service My Rights, My Say.

Social and financial inclusion

Education is the most important component of most young carer's lives in terms of social inclusion, so most of the initiatives highlighted under the education heading above are also relevant here.

Young Carer Grant

The Young Carer Grant is available to young carers who provide care to someone normally paid a qualifying disability benefit, care for 16 hours a week and not in receipt of Carer's Allowance. The young carers do not need to be in education and can combine the number of hours spent providing care for up to three people in order to meet the 16 hours eligibility criteria.

It is intended that the Grant helps young carers to:

  • look after their own health and wellbeing, improve their quality of life and reduce any negative impact of caring
  • participate fully in society and, if they choose, engage in training, education and employment opportunities, as well as social and leisure
  • have an increased sense of control and empowerment over their lives.

Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA)

EMA is available in Scotland to eligible people aged 16 to 19 who have reached school leaving age.

Scottish Funding Council guidance[49] encourages local authorities and colleges to promote the uptake of EMA to young carers. The guidance also highlights that a degree of flexibility around attendance patterns should be afforded to young carers when administering EMA. To enable this to happen, young carers should highlight their caring responsibility on the EMA application form. A conversation to agree on a suitable flexible attendance pattern should take place with the school or college, and then written into the student's learning agreement.

Young Scot card extra discounts and opportunities

The Scottish Government funds the Young Scot package of discounts and opportunities for young carers with a Young Scot card across Scotland to access and enjoy.

Co-created with a young carer "vision panel", the package has been fully informed by young carers. A simple application is required through the Young Scot website which also contains further information about what's on offer.

Young carers told us that the transition into adulthood is an important time, which is why we fund Young Scot to offer a special Transitions Package. Young carers aged 18, who are about to age of the Young Carers Package, can get some extra support with a flexible £100 voucher which can be used for a variety of items.

"I have only recently became a young carer and it has been a big change for me and my parents. We have all been through a traumatic time. I have had good support from my local carers centre and I have attended a young carers consultation. I have found the young scot website interesting, helpful and generous."

Actions about financial and social inclusion for young carers

We will continue to encourage uptake of the Young Carer Grant by signposting via our partner organisations.

We will continue to fund the Young Scot young carer package and have expanded this for 2022-23.



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