In my School Nursing team, each School Nurse has a lead area. Mine is young carers.

Young carers are children and young people who live in families where a parent or sibling has a physical or mental health problem, or is perhaps battling drug or alcohol problems. These children take on caring responsibilities and, because of this, can’t do things like learning to ride a bike that other children routinely do.

Young carers are often hidden. They feel their duties are part of normal family life. They conceal the details of their home life from doctors, nurses, social workers and teachers and fear they will find out about the burdens they shoulder. The Children’s Society (2013) identified that young carers are one and a half time more likely to have special educational needs or long-standing illness or disability, which adds to their vulnerability. Local and national data indicates that there are more than 160,000 children in England have formal caring responsibilities. This figure is an underestimate because it leaves out the many children who care for adults with drug and alcohol problems (HM Government, 2014).

The Children’s and Families Act 2014 and the Care Act 2014 place responsibility on Local Authorities to take reasonable steps to identify young carers and assess and support their needs. I can do this important work when attending our borough’s youth club for young carers, which is run by youth workers and supported by School Nurses. There are currently 84 young carers attending the session, which are split into two age groups of 9 to 12 and 13 to 19 years of age. The youth club is their chance to be children, giving them opportunity to meet with others with similar experiences and take part in activities that other children and young people enjoy.

The relationship between youth workers and School Nurses is strengthening week by week. It allows School Nurses provide pivotal links and connections between home, school, health services and other professionals. I meet with the youth worker before each session to discuss new referrals, as well as the support that may be required to improve outcomes for the young person and their family. Also, the weekly visit to the youth club means that the young carers and their family members have access to a School Nurse. Having gained their trust, they will pop into the youth club or call me.

It was during one of these sessions that I met 14-year-old Nancy*. Nancy’s mother had removed her from school because she had received daily telephone calls from the school complaining about Nancy’s behavior. I learned that Nancy’s mother is visually impaired, her father has disabilities and Nancy’s younger brother has cerebral palsy.

At our first meeting, Nancy opened up and told me that, although she didn’t miss Physical Education, she did miss going to school. Recognizing that further assessment was required, I referred Nancy to a paediatrician who is currently investigating the possibility that Nancy might have autism. I was able to support Nancy’s mum, whose visual impairment made it difficult for her to complete the questionnaires sent from the paediatrician and occupational therapy. Nancy is now back in school and keeps me updated with how her week has gone at school. I support Nancy and her mum by attending meetings at school to share what life is like for Nancy, a young carer who possibly also has autism. Without this intervention Nancy may well have not returned to school and missed the opportunity to develop her full potential.

More parents are now requesting health assessments and a higher number of parents/carers drop in for advice and support. I am able to share my knowledge about a wide variety of medical conditions and help parents understand how to manage these conditions and help young carers care for and support their family member. The impact of School Nursing involvement has led to quicker access to services such as audiology, speech and language, paediatricians and occupational therapy. The young carers, youth workers and I have been on a journey that has brought immense satisfaction, creating a strong relationship that will continue to grow and develop.

Amanda Street, Specialist Practitioner School Nurse

*Names have been changed.

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