It is a real pleasure to be here today. I am especially pleased to have the chance to express my deep appreciation for the extremely hard work that so many of you put in on a daily basis.
I want to single out Jenny Frank, who is Programme Manager of The Children’s Society’s Include project and who is a tremendously helpful point of contact for the Department for Education. It is Jenny and her team, along with several key co-conspirators, that have organised and delivered these events all around the country. I understand that running these events has been a logistical nightmare requiring all their resourcefulness and ingenuity and the keeping of some fairly anti-social hours. They really have worked miracles on a tight budget to get us everywhere we needed to be so I would like to formally record my thanks for their efforts.
The extraordinary dedication of young carers shows the very best of humanity. I know that you are looking for more from me than a pat on the back or a patronising “Well done you.” But I do want to begin by simply saying “Thank you.”
Thank you for your participation at this and previous events, for speaking up on behalf of young carers across the country. Thank you for telling us about the sacrifices you constantly make; the lengths you go to in putting other people first; and the burdens you shoulder that would defeat many of us. I am looking forward to hearing from you very much indeed. Without your voice we can’t hope to know what your world is really like - or how we can help.
Celebrating the Prevention Through Partnership Programme
Today is a chance to look back on seventeen events that have been held over two years as part of the Prevention Through Partnership Programme. This has been a highly successful, concerted, joint effort to help local services improve the identification of and support for young carers and their families.
Funded by the DfE and run by the Children’s Society, Prevention Through Partnership has brought together a whole host of interested parties. Local authorities; statutory agencies; the health, education and voluntary sectors; other charities; adult teams; early years, probation and youth-offending services; and - perhaps most importantly of all - young carers themselves.
These events have given decision makers and practitioners space to think about what they have in place for young carers and their families, a chance to discuss how things could work better, and some copper-bottomed, evidence-based examples and tools to help deliver that change
Although we have heard that there is plenty of good practice out there, it’s clear that there is still plenty more to do. So with that in mind I am delighted that we are able to keep this work going for a further two years. Inevitably we will have less money to spend than before but what will not be lost is a focus on the whole family and the importance of communication and cooperation between different organisations and sectors.
Putting young carers first
We sometimes hear rather too much, I think, about how children don’t know what’s good for them. But there is an important sense in which this may be true of young carers. Caring can be a very worthwhile thing to do - helping someone to develop useful skills and affording them an opportunity to do something meaningful for a person that they love. Yet carers of whatever age can, for the most noble of reasons, overlook their own needs.
So it’s absolutely right, then, that the system should be there to protect them.
Young carers must be able to live a full life. That certainly includes an education, but also all the other things that their peers take for granted, like having time to go out with friends. And it’s not only abused children who are sometimes forced to grow up sooner than they should. We need to stop that happening.
Young carers must be protected from those aspects of caring that are inappropriate for a child and, wherever possible, helped with those tasks that all of us find difficult. Sorting out an electricity bill or speaking to health professionals about a parent’s condition are rarely straightforward tasks. The more that everyone involved in the system is alive to these issues, the better.
I grew up in a family that fostered many children. Some of those who came to live with us had been taken into care because their parents had left caring duties entirely to their children. That is at the more extreme end of the spectrum, but the fact remains that being a young carer is always highly demanding. I don’t want those demands to become unbearable for anyone.
Local authority adult and children’s services need to work closely together. Any assessment of how an adult is faring should include asking how the whole family is coping, and any concerns must be passed on and acted upon.
Of course different local authorities face different challenges, but there are plenty of young carers in every part of the country. And whatever budgetary pressures local authorities face, and we know that they do, none of them can allow this to become a Cinderella service.
Focused support works and schools have a key role
We know that family-focused support works. A survey the DfE published in September 2011 found a significant improvement for nearly a third of families supported by the Young Carer Pathfinder projects. Families saw significant improvements in areas such as, housing, relationships between family members, child protection, inappropriate levels of caring, school attendance and anti-social behaviour.
Schools have a key role too. They are well-placed to identify young carers at an early stage. I’m afraid I have zero sympathy for any teacher who thinks that their responsibility extends no further than educating their pupils during school hours. Any adult who has regular contact with a child should take a keen interest in their welfare.
Schools cannot meet their obligation to support vulnerable children without being well-versed in this subject. And remember that this is not only a moral obligation but a statutory one as well.
I was dismayed to learn that one young carer’s project that offered to come and talk to a school assembly about young carers had been assured by the head-teacher that “I have no young carers at my school.” Given that around 8 per cent of school-age children may be young carers, that is wildly improbable.
In January 2011 the Children’s Society and ITV surveyed over 350 young carers. A fifth said they had been bullied because of their caring role and over half said that being a young carer had a negative effect on their schoolwork.
There are many resources available to help deal with the challenges surrounding young carers, including a Department for Education online e-learning package for staff in schools.
The Prevention Through Partnership Programme has shared this - and done much more besides - brilliantly. The feedback from these events has been overwhelmingly positive. So I’d also like to take a second here to acknowledge the excellent work done by Carers Trust as part of our other young carers grant-funded work in collecting, collating and sharing so many best practice examples.
The Children’s Society and Carers Trust have played a vital part in helping local services think about how they can design, commission and deliver services in a young carer-friendly way. We are already starting to see the results of this work and uncover some existing good practice, for example: Stockton Council and NHS Stockton-on-Tees working together to produce a joint carers strategy; Hampshire’s practice guidance for adult and children’s services in supporting young carers within a whole-family working model; and Norfolk County Council involving their local young carers in the commissioning process.
So I am delighted to be able to announce today that a new contract worth £1.2 million over the next two years has been awarded to Carers Trust and the Children’s Society to continue this good work. Make no mistake - this constitutes a big vote of confidence in you.