Official language about informal carers is at variance with the way we normally talk about family life. How many children or young people who care – for parents or other relatives – would spontaneously label themselves a ‘young carer’? How many parents would describe their son or daughter in this way? How many people who frame census questions would have thought of including a question to find out, until ‘young carer’ became a category like ‘disability’ or ‘age’ that census takers consider important?
Labelling a child or a young person as a carer has an impact not only on their own identity, but also on that of the person they care for. Statistically speaking, this is usually a lone parent because otherwise a partner is likely to be the informal carer. But how does it feel as a parent to be designated as needing care from your child? Some disability activists argue that it is demeaning to disabled parents to be singled out in this way (Keith and Morris, 1994), and that it distorts the focus: support should be offered to the parent to function as a parent, not to the young person to function better as a young carer.
A particular issue when it comes to recognising young carers is fear - fear on the part of the adult that their child will be taken away so that they can enjoy a ‘normal’ childhood elsewhere, fear on the child's part that the relative they care for will be transferred to a home or a hospital. Despite the pressures young carers have to cope with, most seem to prefer that to the loss of their family. Indeed some, like Katrina, feel proud of what they do.
For all these reasons labelling a child as a young carer may be at variance with the way the family wants to present itself to the outside world.