Educational disadvantage can deprive a young carer from attaining their true potential. Education staff have a powerful role in addressing this and in advancing children’s human rights.
Máire McCormack is Head of Strategy, Office of the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland.
The recent Young Carers Awareness Day gives us a useful opportunity to discuss the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 and the key role that people working in educational settings can play in supporting young carers.
Our office’s statutory duty is to promote and safeguard the rights of everyone under 18, or to 21 if the young person is in care or care experienced, paying particular attention to groups of children and young people who may find it difficult to make their views known, such as young carers. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is at the heart of our work as is the views and experiences of children and young people.
Numerous CRC rights are relevant to young carers, including article 28 the right to education and article 29 which states that education of the child shall be directed to the development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential.
At the Young Carers Festival last August, young carers talked about how teaching staff could support them at school. The overall view was they should be more carer aware. Some reported that school provided welcome respite to their caring role, others were less positive, finding school to be stressful and not all teachers sympathetic. Of concern was how few of them were aware of the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 and the new rights contained within it.
The Carers (Scotland) Act 2016, which came into force in April 2018, has the potential to change young carers lives, making it easier to identify them and allowing them to have a childhood similar to their non-carer peers.
There are signs that can indicate that a pupil is a young carer – absences from school, unfinished homework, poor attainment, non-attendance at parents’ nights, limited peer networks at school and anxiety. Young carers support services, however, note some preconceived ideas of what a young carer is and does: some children with additional support needs may have brothers and sisters providing care, some will be caring for a parent with an illness, disability or addiction. Support may be practical and/or emotional.
With more than 44,000 young carers in Scotland, those working with children and young people are uniquely placed to make a major difference to these young peoples’ lives. Training and support will give them the confidence to recognise the signs – especially at an early stage, to avoid crisis intervention later – and ensure the barriers young carers so often face can be removed.
There is much good practice in Scottish schools, often when the young carers service has a staff member to support teachers and schools in their area, helping to increase awareness of the issues affecting young carers. Good practice examples include:
- A young carers card, removing the need to explain, for example when the young carer is late or has to leave the classroom
- A drop-in service initially marketed as helping to draft the school’s young carer’s policy, but also providing mutual support
- A dedicated young carers noticeboard
- Safe spaces in school.
- Checking in occasionally with the young person
- Allowing mobile phones to be on.
Everyone working within education can play an important role in raising awareness of young carers’ rights under this Act and of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. In so doing, they will increase their own awareness and understanding of their rights obligations and be able to support young carers better.
Definition of young carer: A young carer is defined as an individual who provides (or intends to provide) care for another person and is under 18, or 18, but still attending school. The focus is now on how the caring role is affecting the young person, rather than the hours spent caring.
The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland is Bruce Adamson. He works with his team to protect the rights of children and young people: https://www.cypcs.org.uk/