THERE are estimated to be 700,000 young carers in the UK today providing care and support to family members and friends.

In Worcestershire there are around 260 officially identified young carers but this is probably the tip of the iceberg as many who provide unpaid care for someone who is physically and/or mentally ill, disabled or misuses substances are not known to local services.

Many of these youngsters miss out on vital services and support to which they are entitled and the Carers Trust is running Young Carers Awareness Day tomorrow (January 28) to highlight the work they do and help them, along with their families, to access appropriate support.

In Worcestershire, the Midlands-based independent charity YSS (formerly known as Youth Support Services) with a centre in Carden Street, Worcester, runs a scheme called Worcestershire Young Carers.

The initiative, commissioned by Worcestershire County Council, currently supports more than 260 young carers who help look after a parent, guardian or sibling in their own home who has an illness or disability. This includes people who have issues with drugs and alcohol or have mental health difficulties.

The caring roles can differ greatly from young person to young person – from washing, bathing, feeding and administering medication to emotional support and helping with parenting of younger siblings.

Young carers are also far less likely to go on to higher and further education, as well being more likely to suffer bullying and their own mental health problems.

YSS delivers face to face sessions and mentoring support to young carers aged between seven and 25. These sessions can be based around various issues - school, bullying and self-esteem - with the aim of helping the young person maintain their well-being while having a caring role.

Neil Phillips, a YSS key worker, said the scheme also runs monthly youth clubs for two age groups - seven to 12 and 13 to 25 –at Perdiswell Young People’s Centre in Worcester. As well as these clubs, there is a full schedule of activities throughout the year including things like camping, rock climbing, visited the seaside, going to cricket matches, bowling, swimming, fishing, ice skating, visiting castles and German markets.

“The general idea of the youth clubs is to help young carers switch off, wind down and have some fun. There is a pool table and music,” said Neil. “We also have some kind of cookery activity and we are trying to promote healthy eating and talk about other issues like sexual health.

“There is a big emphasis from the county council for us to support young carers to stay in school or go on to higher education. We offer help with CVs and college applications.”

Councillor John Campion, Worcestershire County Council's cabinet member for Children and Families said: "We want to make sure children and young people in Worcestershire who are carers have the same rights as all children and young people.

“Young carers should be able to learn, develop friendships and enjoy a positive, healthy childhood, just like other children and young people.

"The council continues its drive to raise awareness, reach, identify and appropriately support more young carers. We are a proud supporter of Young Carers Awareness Day and we hope that it will encourage the residents of Worcestershire to look out for young carers and help them get the support they deserve."

Two young carers from Worcestershire, who go along to the YSS clubs and activities tell their stories.

Case study 1.

EIGHTEEN-year-old Yasmin Ford from Redditch is studying A level biology, chemistry and maths in sixth form and hopes to go on to university to do veterinary nursing.

This may not sound particularly remarkable but as a young woman who has helped care for her mum for the past 10 years, she is extremely rare. Young carers are four times less likely to go onto higher education after school.

Yas was away on holiday with her older sister Serena and other members of her family when her mum was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) – spending four weeks in hospital.

“It was definitely a shock when she was diagnosed,” says Yas, who admits her mum Natalie, now 44, is a very determined and independent woman and in her case the MS did not get worse.

The two sisters then found themselves caring for their mother but Yas points out they worked together as a team dividing the jobs between them. Until recently Serena was named as the main carer but now Yas has taken on that roll.

“When I was younger my sister did a lot so I could still see my friends. Caring for mum was a big change but we work really well as a unit. We have to help her get dressed and I do a lot of things around the house.

“I do mainly cleaning, vacuuming and ironing. Mum has lost the use of her left side. If there is anything needing two hands or strength it is difficult for her.

“She is very independent but she sometimes needs help with cooking. I also do some of the jobs like cleaning out the guttering on the house,” adds Yas, who also takes the dogs for walks twice a day.

“She has improved a lot and she is very determined. I do not let her shower without someone being in the house or have a bath in case she cannot get out. We have Home Care four times a week to help out with jobs.”

As well as studying and caring, Yas finds time to do a part-time job at weekends in a small local hotel. Her mum has also gone back to work for a few hours each week.

“It was really hard at the start because people did not understand. It was a bit of a struggle. Even now I do not go out that much.”

But a major factor in Yas’s life as a carer has been the support of the Worcestershire Young Carers scheme. She has a key worker who is always there to help with practical matters and give moral support. She goes also goes along to monthly meetings with other young carers.

She says it helps being with people in the same boat. “They just understand. You can open up to them about anything. You can say what you are struggling with and they understand it.

“We like to have a good laugh. We have a pool table and have music. There’s a bouncy castle, which most people love, and sports in the summer. We also do arts and crafts and we do first aid courses and things about coping mechanisms. We share stories about what we are going through and our experiences,” she said.

“YSS helps with practical support and how to balance school life with home life and having fun and being able to relax. It is brilliant. I have a lot of friends there. It has definitely helped with my confidence and it is a laugh and really supportive. I am really glad they are there.”

Case study 2

Sixteen-year-old Ed Edkins, of Evesham, thought being a carer was just normal. He has been helping to care for his severely disabled brother Oliver since he was eight years old.

Oliver has severe and multiple physical, behaviour and development disabilities – including being at the highest end of the autism spectrum. He cannot talk but Ed communicates with him with sign language.

Ed said: “I was helping out with him as soon as he was born. It has got more and more over the years. Oliver is eight now.”

Mum Mandy is Oliver’s named carer but has her own health problems. “When she was very ill I took on the role of main carer,” Ed added.

“I help shower him and help to feed him and cloth him and make sure he is OK and I sign with him. I do not get to go out and see friends much. I am mainly at home doing housework and helping him.”

Ed goes to South Worcestershire College and is doing level two motor vehicle maintenance and repair.

“Caring has caused me to miss days off school in the past. If mum is ill I have to get a day off college. We are lucky that Ollie goes to school and he is has been going to a respite worker for four or five months. If he goes out of the house, I catch up with the housework. It is non-stop.”

Last Autumn Ed’s own health turn a turn for the worse and he said he hasn’t really had time to recover properly. He has only just returned to college following his illness.

Ed started attending Worcestershire Young Carers youth club and events about a year ago. “It has given me a chance to talk about what is going on at home. I have gone on to do talks in schools about young carers and Worcestershire Young Carers. It is giving me confidence and time to talk to new friends and be me.

“I thought being a carer was normal. Going to the youth club and activities helps me deal with the stress of caring. The people there understand what we are going through.

“I go to the focus group, where we get to put our point of view across to organisations like the NHS, and the monthly youth club.”

He has also been on a camping trip to the coast and to the National Young Carers’ Festival run by YMCA Fairthorne Manor in partnership with The Children’s Society. He went on a three-day outdoor adventures event at Blackwell Court near Bromsgrove and helped run the project’s second annual conference in April last year.

“Ed has been a really big part of things at young carers since he joined,” said key worker Neil Phillips.

The conference, hosted at drp communications agency at Hartlebury and attended by the Princess Royal who is patron of YSS, gave him an opportunity to learn about different aspects of media communications like film making, editing, lighting and audio and fuelled his interest in technology.

“After I went to the festival I came back and was completely relaxed and calm. It gave me chance to unwind and be a proper kid and do things. I am looking at going into computing and I can work at home and do more caring at home,” said Ed.