The Scottish Government is currently asking for views on its proposals to reform the law in relation to carers. But will the changes lead to a better deal for young carers?
YouthLink Scotland’s Policy Officer Barbara Schuler looks at some of the issues.
Whenever someone wants to cite a disadvantaged group of young people who our society is failing, young carers are usually near the top of the list. Recently, however, this group is now getting some long overdue attention. The Scottish Youth Parliament is focusing on young carers this year, with their ‘Care.Fair.Share.’ campaign urging the Scottish Government to ease the financial strain facing young carers (see : http://www.syp.org.uk/care-fair-share-W21page-476-).
And yet more attention is being shone on these issues thanks to the Scottish Government’s consultation on legislation in relation to carers. However, is there a risk that young carers will continue to be overlooked? The Scottish Government acknowledges that young carers are something of a hidden group. Research suggests that there around 100,000 young people providing care to family members, yet only 3,500 are officially recognised as carers. Identification is important, not least because young carers may be struggling to get by without adequate support.
Ideally, no child or young person should be a carer. That isn’t to say that caring can’t have positive aspects or that young people don’t get anything out of it. However, it’s a heavy burden to place on young shoulders. Sadly, being a young carer is associated with a range of negative outcomes. In the worst case scenarios it can deprive young people of their right to be young, have fun and spend time with their friends. In many cases, caring can place young people under undue stress and take a toll on their own mental and physical wellbeing. For all these reasons and more, it’s better to prevent young people becoming carers in the first place.
So, will the new proposals do anything to help young carers? Well, possibly, but there are some inconsistencies with the approach being put forward. The move to rebrand carer’s assessments as carer’s support plans is welcome, as assessment has rather negative overtones. However, young carers won’t be eligible for a support plan, as it’s adults-only. The assumption is that young carers will be assessed to see if they are eligible for a Child’s Plan under the new Children and Young People Act, which has just gained Royal Assent. However, as the Government’s proposals point out, not all young carers will be eligible for a Child’s Plan. Where does that leave young carers who don’t qualify for the adult Carer’s Support Plan, but can’t get a Child’s Plan either? The concern is that many young carers will be left in limbo, unidentified and unable to access the support they’re entitled to.
As a way around this, might it be better to introduce Young Carer’s Support Plans? That way, young carers can be provided with a specialist, tailored package of support. I can see the advantages of the Child’s Plan approach, in that keeping young carers within the GIRFEC framework will hopefully ensure that the focus is on their needs as a young person first and foremost. But on the other hand, a specific Young Carer’s Support Plan would help to identify young carers as a group, and would arguably provide a more targeted response to the very specific needs that young carers have, as opposed to adult carers – or indeed other young people.
Since prevention is better than cure, it would make sense for support plans for cared-for adults to take account of whether they are a parent, and ensure that adequate support is provided so that children and young people in the family will not expected to take on caring responsibilities. Named Persons and Child’s Plans should, in turn, take account of parents’, sibling and grandparents’ health needs and whether there are adequate care arrangements in place.
The proposals state that the Scottish Government has decided not to go down the route of family-based assessments, which some parents and carers favour. The argument is that it would be difficult to legislate for this type of assessment, although individual assessments can cross-reference each other. For instance, the Child’s Plan can take parents’ views into account. However, this is different from looking at the needs of the whole family in a holistic way. There is a risk that young carers’ needs will be overlooked, either because they aren’t included in the cared-for adult’s plan, or because siblings, parents and/or the young person’s role as a carer have not been included as part of the Child’s Plan.
Young Carer’s Support Plans, alongside a statutory requirement for local areas to develop young carer’s strategies, would arguably be more effective in identifying and then supporting young carers. Given that the Scottish Government has commissioned a Young Carers’ Rights Charter, would it not be more consistent to have Young Carer’s Support Plans too?
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