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“On Monday mornings I’ll be late for school because I have to wait for nine o’clock for the post office to open. I’ll get her electric, her gas, and other things like the rent and stuff.” (Young carer)1
The Children's Society states “A child becomes a ‘young carer’ when the level of care-giving and responsibility to the person in need of care becomes inappropriate for that child and impacts on his or her own emotional or physical well-being or educational achievement and life chances”.2 Children and young people who undertake some caring tasks for a family member as part of an otherwise normal and healthy family life should not be given this label; however, it is concerning when a child is taking on inappropriate and onerous responsibilities over a prolonged period.
This article has three main aims: to discuss how paediatricians may come into contact with children who are carers; examine the evidence for how caring may impact on their well-being; and to discuss how we might help such children.
The size of the problem
It is unclear how many children in the UK could be classed as young carers. The 2001 census asked whether a person was helping or supporting others because of long-term ill health or disability. Some 1.2% of dependent children aged 5–17 were reported as doing so, with 11 094 youngsters caring for between 20 and 49 h per week and 9374 for more than 50 h per week (cited in Newman and Wates3). This is a significant number of children but is likely to be an underestimate, as some parents may have not wished to identify their children as providing care because of stigma, embarrassment or fear of investigation by social care. More recently, a BBC survey of 4000 school children found that one in 12 were …