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Young Carers Bullied at School, Study Finds

May 17, 2010

Children as young as six who look after their sick or disabled parents are routinely being bullied at school, according to research published today.

The study found more than two-thirds of young carers face taunts from fellow pupils, who often mock their parents’ appearance or disabilities. Many said they felt unsupported or misunderstood by teachers when they became tired, missed homework deadlines or could not get to school because of their responsibilities.

More than 13,000 children and young people in the UK spend more than 50 hours a week caring for a dependent family member or friend, many taking on adult roles without any outside support.

Some 39% of the 700 six to 18-year-olds questioned for the Princess Royal Trust for Carers and the Children’s Society said there was not a single teacher at their school who knew they were a young carer. Of those whose teachers did know, more than half did not feel supported.

Helen Leadbitter, national development worker for young carers at the Children’s Society, said most bullying took the form of jeering about the physical or learning disabilities, or mental health problems, of carers’ parents.

“Young carers also often feel isolated and may not have time to socialise if they’re having to go home to carry out their responsibilities,” she said. “Sometimes they feel they mature faster than their peers and can’t mix that well. Because they’re not mixing with the group that can lead to bullying.”

Chelsea Hollis, 10, is the sole carer for her mother, Maria, who lost her sight two years ago. She helps with shopping, cooking and washing and clearing up, as well as making sure her mother is safe when they go out together, but is often shunned by other children.

“It’s difficult at school because when I do my work I’m always distracted thinking about my mum. I’m really scared she will hurt herself,” she said. “Other children give me a hard time.

“The way people treat me makes me feel quite sad. I feel like I’m not going to have a good future because I haven’t got that many friends and I don’t really get to play that much.”

Lorraine Digance, who suffers from ME, fibromyalgia, and a neurological condition that can sometimes leave her temporarily paralysed, said her 12-year-old son, who helps to care for her together with his sister, eight, had been bullied by children who laughed at her appearance.

“I’ve put quite a lot of weight on and I use a walking stick, and sometimes I’m in a wheelchair,” she said. “It’s enough to deal with that, but it’s quite another thing to know that your kids are having to deal with the fallout. It’s heartwrenching. When you’re a parent you just want to protect your children.”

More than one-third of those questioned said they worried about the person they cared for when they were at school, and a quarter suffered from the stress of juggling schoolwork and caring responsibilities.

Carole Cochrane, chief executive of the Princess Royal Trust for Carers, said: “It is shocking to discover that so many young carers have to endure bullying, mental health problems and a lack of support from their teachers, all because they care for a family member who is unable to cope without their help. Sadly, without the right support, many young carers will underachieve or drop out of school altogether, which has a long and enduring impact on their future prospects.”

The two charities are launching a poster campaign to run in all UK secondary schools highlighting the work of young carers, and providing information to help schools support pupils.

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