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April 17, 2021

Who is looking out for young carers?

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Dr Myra Hamilton says that programs designed to meet young carer’s family environments and educational needs appear to be lacking. Photo supplied.

There are times when the only person able to care for someone who is ill, is that person’s child – sometimes that child is still in school and this has a huge bearing on their education.

New research shows that young Australians providing care for family members with mental illnesses, alcohol and drug addictions are struggling to keep up with their studies.

The study by Flinders University and UNSW found the problem will continue without improved flexibility in schools and personalised intervention programs.

The results of a national survey which included over 5000 children aged 8-14 identified hundreds of young carers. It compared their levels of school engagement with peers that don’t carry similar responsibilities on a daily basis.

Young carers are in desperate need of diverse forms of support to ensure their unpredictable responsibilities don’t prevent engagement at school

The study was led by Senior Research Fellow in the UNSW Social Policy Research Centre, Dr Myra Hamilton, and Flinders University College of Business, Government & Law Professor Gerry Redmond. It indicates that young carers are in desperate need of diverse forms of support to ensure their unpredictable responsibilities don’t prevent engagement at school, especially because no single experience is the same.

Professor Redmond says that previous research has shown young carers can be over a year behind their classmates in literacy and numeracy. ‘They have responsibilities which can adversely affect their life chances, health and well-being, and relationships so we need to understand why.

‘Our results show tailored programs focused on the needs of young carers are desperately needed to improve their school engagement, which is directly related to future outcomes.’

Almost 500 young carers indicated they were looking after a family member with a disability or other serious health concern, of whom a majority had responsibilities for a family member with a mental illness or using alcohol or drugs.

It’s a more difficult situation for carers of a person with a mental illness, or those using alcohol or drugs

Professor Redmond says while the engagement of a young carer for a family member with a disability or illness isn’t particularly different to that of non-carers, it’s a more difficult situation for carers of a person with a mental illness, or those using alcohol or drugs.

Dr Hamilton says despite evidence showing poorer school outcomes for these young carers and the challenges they face, programs designed to meet their specific family environment and educational needs appear to be lacking.

‘A personalised approach which includes the entire family and greater awareness and understanding of mental illness and drug or alcohol issues in schools, among teachers and students, could help make the school environment less “threatening” for young carers,’ she said.

The federal government currently deploys programs and resources to schools, which raise awareness around young carers needs amongst staff and students and support their continued education.

‘Over the last two decades, a number of countries have invested more in a range of services for young carers, including respite, information, counselling, and group and recreational activities,’ Professor Redmond says.

Redmond says while the current policies may be making a positive difference, the results in this study show more needs to be done.

Are young carers less engaged in school than non-carers? Evidence from a representative Australian study is available here.

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  1. Interesting that you publish this article, as I actually can’t find a ‘young carers support group’ in this area for a local young person in need right now, nor any actual supports for them at all. While this article primarily talks of young carers under 14, there are many young people under 24 caring for a parent, and they are sadly literally left to their own devices, and given very little support, particularly those who have left school, or are above high school age. There are actually NO support groups whatsoever listed for Byron on the Carers NSW website.


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