Belfast Telegraph

The teens who act as carers: one in ten 16-year-olds helping the vulnerable

By Lindsay Fergus

One in ten 16-year-olds in Northern Ireland act as carers for vulnerable relatives, friends or neighbours, according to new research by Queen's University and the University of Ulster, published today.

The survey also shows that 20% of young carers have provided support for at least five years from the age of just 11.

The findings from the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey and the Young Life and Times Survey, which quizzed 786 16-year-olds, provide a startling insight into the burden of caring placed on our young people.

Among its other findings, were:

  • Half of those with caring responsibilities provide assistance at least five days a week;
  • One in 10 provide at least 30 hours of care per week;
  • 30% look after their mother and 35% their grandmother;
  • 25% have never told anyone outside their family about their caring responsibilities;
  • Although 71% of young carers enjoy caring, 85% say that lack of free time is an issue.

With regard to adult carers, the research found that 26% of the research participants (22% of men and 30% of women) have caring responsibilities.

Dr Paula Devine, research director at Ark at Queen's School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work, said: "This research provides a valuable insight into the lives of the many adults and teenagers in Northern Ireland who provide care for relatives, friends and neighbours.

"While the results demonstrate the satisfaction many carers feel in being able to support people that they care about, they also illustrate the impact of caring on the individual's health, emotional well-being and financial situation. This research should help inform decisions on the support that is available to carers in Northern Ireland, to ensure they too are given the help they need to fulfil their caring responsibilities."

Helen Ferguson, director of Carers Northern Ireland and a co-author of the report, said: "These carers enable thousands of vulnerable people who need support to keep leading independent lives. At the same time they reduce the amount of input that social services agencies need to make."

The research findings are available in three reports: An Ordinary Life? Caring in Northern Ireland Today; Young Carers Too; and Men As Carers, which are available online at www.ark.ac.uk.

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