For 11-year-old Caiden, a young carer from Pembrokeshire who provides a pivotal role by helping his mum Emma look after his sister Ella, who has neurological disabilities and needs round-the-clock care, summer holidays can be lonely.
As his dad is away a lot with work and there are no other family members close by, it can be isolating caring for Ella as a family, and particularly for Caiden during the summer holidays. During term time he helps care for Ella for around an hour a day before and after school, but this rises to four or five hours during the summer break.
Caiden said: “Sometimes I don’t really get to do what I want to during the holidays. I don’t get to go outside and play with friends because I have to play with my sister. I’d love to go to park and play with my friends more, I’d like to do more sport and I’d love it if mum, me and Ella could go down the beach much more.”
Caiden attends Pembrokeshire Young Carers, run by the charity Action for Children. The short breaks service gives Caiden a break from caring responsibilities and the chance to socialise with other young carers and take part in fun activities.
He takes part in activities which he wouldn’t be able to do with his family because of Ella’s needs. “The support he gets is invaluable,“ says his mum, Emma. “He can’t go and stay at nanny’s overnight or go and have tea with his auntie or his cousins so going to Young Carers gets him away from Ella, gives him a bit of a break and go out with people his own age.”
It turns out that more than eight out of ten young carers (82%) feel lonely during the summer holidays, according to worrying new research released by Action for Children and Carers Trust.
The survey of young carers aged 11-18 also reveals that because of the increase in their caring responsibilities, the vast majority (86%) feel more stressed or worried during the summer holidays than during term-time, with nearly four in ten (39%) feeling that way for most of the summer break. Whilst 82% feel lonely at least some of the time, nearly a third (32%) feel lonely for most of the holidays.
It is therefore unsurprising that more than a third (35%) of the young carers surveyed said they don’t look forward to the summer break – which should be one of the happiest times of the year for young people.
While many of their peers are enjoying time off school, hundreds of thousands of young carers will be at home cooking, cleaning and looking after loved ones. The research shows more than a quarter (27%) feel they will not be able to have a break from their caring responsibilities during the holidays. A higher percentage of girls (31%) than boys (16%) said they didn’t feel able to take a break from their caring role during the holidays.
The survey also revealed how the holidays pile even more pressure on young carers. It found over a quarter (26%) will spend over 10 hours on a typical day over summer caring for family members – the equivalent of losing half of their holidays - compared to one in ten (12%) caring for the same time in term time. Shockingly, nearly one in five (18%) of those polled said they will be caring for more than 12 hours on a typical day in the summer holidays.
There are an estimated one million young carers across the UK3 looking after a family member with a disability, illness or mental health problem - some as young as five years old. Typically, young carers help with practical tasks around the home such as cooking, housework and shopping; physical care, such as helping someone out of bed; and personal care, such as helping someone dress. And not only do these children care for their family members during the day, they are also effectively ‘on call’ overnight.
A separate survey by Carers Trust earlier this year showed the intensity of young and young adult carers’ roles is increasing, with more than half (56%) saying the time they spent caring is rising, and nearly half (47%) now caring for more people than they used to. The first ever parliamentary inquiry into how caring affects their life chances has just been launched by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Young Carers and Young Adult Carers, supported by Carers Trust.
Brigitte Gater, national director for Action for Children in Wales, said: “The summer holidays should be a carefree time for children but they can be heart-breaking for young carers who are often isolated and stuck at home, while their friends are having fun or enjoying time away. For young carers, the school term is often their respite from caring duties but that can disappear in the summer.
“We see first-hand the awful, often life-long impact of loneliness, anxiety and stress on this hidden child workforce who dedicate their formative years to helping loved ones. They are desperate for a break from their responsibilities and to have a bit of fun in the holidays.
“Young carers are proud to look after family members, but the work they do deserves proper recognition and support. Young carer respite services can be a lifeline, but the support currently available just isn’t enough to reach all of them in the right way. Every effort must be made to ensure councils have sufficient funding so all young carers have access to these essential services. Only then will these children begin to have the practical and emotional support they need for a safe and happy childhood.”
Kirsty McHugh, chief executive at Carers Trust, said: “While millions of children are heading off on fun-filled summer holidays, these alarming figures reveal young carers have a very different few weeks ahead. For many, going to school can be their only break from the stresses and strains of caring for loved ones, allowing them to just be children for a few hours. Their responsibilities only ramp up when term ends, often leaving them isolated and unsupported, with little time for seeing friends or getting a rest.
“Young carers are carrying all too adult responsibilities on their young shoulders but are often forgotten about by those in a position to help. It’s vital that young carer services are properly funded so they can provide breaks for children in the holidays and beyond. These figures also highlight the need for holiday activities like sports camps and summer schools to be young carer-friendly. The least children deserve is the chance of a proper summer break.”
Action for Children protects and supports vulnerable children and young people by providing practical and emotional care and support, ensuring their voices are heard and campaigning to bring lasting improvements to their lives. With 447 services across the UK, in schools and online, in 2021/22 they helped 671,275 children, young people and families. Visit actionforchildren.org.uk