1.5 Young carers
Who is left out of the definition of informal carer? At first sight, taking account of the four complications noted above means that no one is left out. The definition can embrace anyone who is taking unpaid responsibility for the welfare of another person. Where do children and young people come into this? Maybe in answering Activity 5 you considered whether parenting young children makes you a carer. Looking after young children is not usually seen as making someone a carer. It is seen as mainly the private responsibility of families unless social services or other agencies have cause for concern, or families themselves ask for help. The public world which finds it necessary to identify informal carers does not concern itself with healthy children, although the parents of sick or disabled children do count. Informal carers are recognised when someone of any age has exceptional needs for care.
Now consider this scenario.
Katrina's situation was reported in the weekly magazine Community Care. Katrina is 15 years old. She lives with her single mother and her younger brother and sister. Katrina's mother has agoraphobia – she is frightened to go out of the house, and subject to panic attacks. Much of the responsibility of care falls on Katrina - managing her mother's condition, taking her younger siblings to school and to evening activities, doing shopping and housework. She started to miss school because she had too much to do at home; then, she says, ‘I missed so much I did not see any point in going back’. Katrina does not resent her responsibilities. She is proud of them, and the important contribution she makes. But, she says, it leads to friction: ‘I often have arguments with my mum, usually over little things. I tell her I can't be an adult in the house, then be treated like a kid when I go out.’
Activity 6: Is Katrina an informal carer?
Try out our definition of informal carer on Katrina. (See ‘What informal carers do’.) Is she an informal carer?
Katrina seems to deserve the title ‘informal carer’. She is taking responsibility not only for her mother, but also for her younger siblings. She is not paid. And her mother is ill.
Katrina is by no means unique. In 2000 it was estimated that there were between 20,000 and 50,000 children who were carers (Department of Health, 2000), and the National Strategy for Carers made the needs of young carers a particular focus.
Yet for many years children and young people were omitted from considerations about informal carers. They did not figure in statistics, they were overlooked, unnoticed – and therefore unsupported. What we focus on here is some of the complexities of naming young carers, using the four complications of the definition identified earlier:
duration and frequency