09 May 2007

Hidden Generation of Young Carers

"I cry myself to sleep until I sleep. But no matter how much you cry it doesn't go away, it's still there when you get up in the morning."

And we complain about child labour and child slavery abroad ... The Princess Royal Trust, who are calling for an inquiry, estimates that there are 175,000 young people caring for sick or disabled parents or siblings in the UK — something like 91% of them without any help.

The most depressing thing about this statistic is not the vast number of people who are missing out on a proper childhood, but that this figure is not new. For years now the Trust and other charities, such as Barnardo's, have been trying to highlight the plight of those who struggle alone to care for their older relatives, often not asking for the help that they so desperately need owing to fear that social services might separate them from their families.

This morning's item on the Today programme was a sad insight into the lives of this hidden army of child carers. The response of Children's Minister Beverly Hughes was wholly inadequate:

"The Government has put the needs of young carers very firmly in the frame for local authorities, for health services, for schools. These are children in need. In law they have a right to information, they have a right to an assessment, and to services to support them. The whole reform of children's services with Every Child Matters, the integration of social care, education, and health is designed to meet better the needs of all vulnerable children."
Not exactly what I would call a consolation to friends and relatives of 13-year-old Deanne Asamoah, who recently died from an overdose of her terminally ill mother's morphine, no longer able to cope after four years as her mother's carer.

The Government needs to acknowledge that this is a real problem in "modern" twenty-first century Britain and urgently provide the necessary support and practical assistance required by carers — both adults and children alike.