The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young carers is being examined in a new research project involving the University of East Anglia (UEA).
Dr Kate Blake-Holmes, of UEA’s Centre for Research on Children and Families, is working with support organisations Caring Together and Norfolk Young Carers Forum to understand in real time the needs of young carers and how these are being managed during the crisis.
Over approximately four weeks, the project will gather feedback from young carers, their families and professionals in health, social care and education, in order to understand their experiences and concerns, and how services are identifying and responding to these.
It will look at the key barriers and challenges to young carers feeling supported and what is working well, as well as what guidance and practice developments are already in place.
The COVID-19 virus will have far-reaching implications for the estimated 700,000 young carers in the UK. While it appears that children and young people are less likely to experience significant physical effects from the virus itself, the indirect impact of attempts to counter the spread of it are likely to have a major impact on their psychological well-being.
Health, social care and education systems in place to support and safeguard young carers and their families are struggling under increased pressure, having to make radical changes in how they meet the needs of disabled and vulnerable people and potentially drawing their focus away from the often hidden and marginalised needs of young carers.
Alongside this, the severe restrictions on in-person contact and travel outside the home present substantial barriers to children who provide care for vulnerable family members. For example, together with a increase in their caring responsibilities, the pre-existing networks that may have provided young carers with respite and support, such as school and peer group friendships, home visits and home care, have simultaneously drawn to a sudden end.
The Coronavirus Act 2020 also temporarily removes the statutory duties of local authorities to assess and support carers. Dr Blake-Holmes warns that the profile of young carers may therefore slip even further under the radar and they may not feel able to articulate their own needs to local authorities.
Dr Blake-Holmes, a registered social worker with experience related to young carers and mental health, said: “The needs of young carers are often marginalised, their voices unheard. As such, it is vital to understand as soon as possible how this feels for them and those they are caring for in this current context, so that we are able to collectively raise awareness of their needs and concerns.
“COVID-19 and the measures that are being taken to counter it, such as school closures, social distancing and self isolation are having a significant impact on young carers. This research will help us find out what can be done to help them and increase recognition of young people providing care.”
The project aims to benefit young carers during the COVID-19 pandemic in a number of ways, such as promoting an awareness across services to be mindful of the impact that changes in provision will have on them.
The work will help inform the provision of effective support and identify urgent support needs, while weekly progress reports and the final analysis of the project will feed in to practice guidance, which can be shared with voluntary and statutory services across the UK.
The researchers also recommend that any child living with a parent with long-term physical health condition, disability or mental ill health, be considered as a young carer throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Andy McGowan, head of carer services at Caring Together said: “Being a young carer can be very hard and demanding at the best of times. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant increased impact on many young carers and their families. It has also affected the support available to them, and how easily they and their families can get that support.
“This is why understanding their needs and what support is needed is extremely important for us. We want to adapt what we do to support young carers as well as we can. We will also work with our partners and other organisations to try to help them work in ways that help carers as effectively as possible.”
The project will involve focus groups and individual interviews conducted by phone and video calls. Feedback will also be sought through the Caring Together website, while views, opinions, and experiences will also be gathered via Twitter and email.
The team is interested in hearing from young carers (aged 14 or above), those being cared for by a young carer or a professional working with people giving or receiving support. Further details about the project and how to get involved can be found at caringtogether.org/news/research-on-coronavirus-and-young-carers