Young carers: review of research and data

Paper discussing the data and evidence on young carers and young adult carers in Scotland.

6. Conclusions

There are an estimated 93,000 carers aged 4-24 in Scotland according to the most accurate estimate from the Scottish Health Survey ( SHeS).

Young carers are a diverse group of different ages and backgrounds and live in all areas of Scotland. However, the Census data presented throughout this report shows that caring is more common in some groups than others:

  • A larger proportion of young women are carers and a majority of young carers and young adult carers are female.
  • There are more young carers in the most deprived areas and they provide more hours of care.
  • Data suggests that as they become older, young people increasingly provide a few hours caring per week.
  • Nearly one quarter (22%; 8328) of young carers aged 4-24 (who are more likely to be in the young adult age group) provided 35 hours or more care per week.

Research and analysis of Census data identify a number of important challenges facing young carers and young adult carers. There is considerable evidence that young carers often experience poorer mental and physical health than peers without caring responsibilities. This is true for self-reported health, long term health conditions or disabilities and mental health conditions. This is likely to have implications for other aspects of their life such as education and employment.

It is not possible to say the extent to which this is directly related to the caring role and those providing the most care do not always have the worst self-reported physical and mental health. Other factors such as deprivation and other inequalities will also have an influence. Young carers need support to ensure that their own health needs are not overlooked. Research suggests that young carers may face challenges in participating in social or leisure activities and may feel isolated as a result.

Young carers can face challenges in balancing their caring responsibilities with education and employment requirements and opportunities. This has potentially profound long-term effects on socio-economic and health outcomes and on inequality. It is possible that young carers may be more likely to experience problems at school and have lower attainment although this will not apply to all young carers. Schools therefore have an important role in being aware of and helping to support young carers. Caring responsibilities can influence education and employment choices and flexibility is an important factor in enabling young carers to balance different commitments.

Young carers can be positive about their role and feel that it brings benefits. However, given the potential impact of caring on young people, access to an assessment of their needs and to appropriate support is critically important. Improving access requires awareness of young caring amongst professionals and service providers, and ensuring that assessments and support are provided in a way that is sensitive to young people's concerns about being identified as a carer or about requiring help.

The evidence is limited on the effectiveness of different interventions to support young people but does identify some of the needs that services can help to address. As caring can be associated with poorer mental health (particularly for female young carers) it is important they are able to access services and supported to participate in non-caring activities to reduce the risk of isolation. Although existing evidence is limited (and this is an important gap), the literature does suggest a range of potential ways to support young carers including through the provision of support to the cared-for person and by helping young people participate in other activities (for example by providing transport) in order to balance caring with other aspects of their lives. Whatever form of support is provided it is important that it is based on the needs of the young person and that young carers' voices are heard.

This paper has reviewed the existing data and evidence on young carers focusing on the period 2005 - 2015 with the aim of providing an overview of the profile of young carers in Scotland and to explore the evidence base on the impacts of caring and support for young carers. The findings from this review sit within a context of on-going policy and service development with the Carers Scotland Act to be commenced in April 2018. As policy and practice continue to develop it will be important to understand the factors that enable young carers to seek and access support and to strengthen the evidence base on effective interventions and support options for young carers. There is a need for evidence that provides more nuanced understandings of young carers in different circumstances


Email: Alix Rosenberg

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