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How can we support the health and wellbeing of young carers in the UK?

Key points

  • Young carers face higher rates of anxiety, depression, bullying, and low academic attainment than their non-carer peers.

  • Our research will contribute to better understanding these difficulties and recommending ways to increase support.

It is estimated that there are over 700,000 young carers (YCs) in the UK aged 5-17 who are responsible for looking after family members that are suffering from disability, chronic illness, mental health problems, or some other condition.

Research has shown that being a YC is associated with negative emotions, such as worry, stress, anger, sadness and emotional exhaustion, as well as bullying, suicidal ideation, low educational attainment, and difficulty coping with academic tasks, such as homework and exams.

YCs provide physical, emotional, and logistical support to those they care for. They often help with tasks such as cooking, getting dressed and moving around. They may also manage the family’s income and collect prescriptions for the individual they care for.

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There are some support systems set in place for them already and many YCs get help from social workers, teachers or other school staff, doctors, nurses or other health workers, or charities that are specifically in place for that purpose.

The aim of this research is to determine how we can better support young carers and help provide them with the skills they need to succeed. We will conduct surveys to explore the experiences of young people in the role of carers in the UK, how this role impacts the rest of their lives (with a specific focus on mental and physical health and wellbeing), and the skills and knowledge they feel they have acquired in this role. We will also explore the experiences of those cared for by YCs and how their mental health and wellbeing might be improved by YCs.

We aim to target a diverse group of YCs and people primarily cared for by YCs with our surveys including people of different ages, backgrounds, experiences and locations across the UK. We expect low survey response rates and will try to mediate this by entering all survey respondents into a drawing for a prize to increase motivation. Results from the surveys will be analyzed by the research team and the findings will be included in a policy paper. This will also include recommendations and calls to action to appropriate government, local authority and industry stakeholders.

A preliminary scoping of the literature suggests that the high prevalence of physical and mental health difficulties of YCs can be interpreted in a myriad of ways and that we should keep in mind the diversity of experiences and the complexity of individual lives and circumstances. For example, YCs are most often from a lower socio-economic status and part of an ethnic minority group, which may exacerbate the challenges that they face.

Some research has also found positive associations with caring including enhanced coping mechanisms, development of greater maturity, increased self-esteem and closer familial relationships. In one qualitative study, many young carers express more positive feelings than negative ones regarding their caring responsibilities, with more than half reporting that it felt good to be able to help, and a further 34% saying that they had learned new skills through caring.

Young carers are a large and diverse group of children in the UK doing work usually not required by people of their age. These extra responsibilities have been shown to have negative effects on their physical and mental health and wellbeing as well as their educational attainments. With this research we hope to identify ways in which we can further support YCs, increasing their skills to care, cope with their responsibilities, and prepare them for the rest of their lives.

Further reading

About the authors

Our dedicated research and editorial team consists of four future doctors and two masters in public health students. Between the six of them they have a variety of interests and accomplishments. A few are included below.

Eric Flores, an MSc student at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is co-founder of Kali to Kali, a non-profit dedicated to sustaining health and education in Pakistan and Rwanda.

Sally Mohammed is a medical student at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry. She serves as the Secretary of the National Committee for the Students for Global Health, a charity dedicated to tackling global and local health inequalities through education, advocacy, and community action.

Sahar Gilani is a medical student at the University College London where she is also a competitive athlete on the University Netball team.

Sara Beqiri, also a medical student at the University College London, volunteers several days a week for charities throughout the city. One of her favorites is Doctors of the World, a charity that helps marginalised populations without access to the NHS access health services through other channels.


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