Young carers: who are they and why do they need support?

Thursday 03 March 2022
Happy young boy in a wheelchair posing with his sister

Young carers take on a lot of adult responsibilities. How does this shape their childhood? What impact does it have?

What is a young carer?

A young carer is someone who is under 18 years old and looks after a family member who is ill, disabled, battling addiction, or has a mental health condition.

Some children begin giving care from a very young age, and others becoming carers overnight.

How many young carers are there in the UK?

Research shows that as many as one in five children and young people are young carers.[1]

  • In England and Wales, the latest census data reveals that there are around 166,000 young carers. [2]
  • There are 29,000 young carers in Scotland. [3]
  • In Northern Ireland, there are around 8,000 under 18’s with caring responsibilities. [4]

These figures do not represent all young carers. In England alone, it’s estimated that there are an additional 600,000 hidden young carers not receiving any support.

Two happy teenage girls sitting on a bench and smiling at each other

What do young carers do?

The responsibility of a young carer is wide and varied. It can include:

  • Practical tasks, such as cooking, housework and shopping.
  • Physical care, such as helping someone out of bed.
  • Emotional support, such as talking to someone who is distressed.
  • Personal care, such as helping someone dress.
  • Managing the family budget and collecting prescriptions.
  • Helping to give medicine.
  • Helping someone communicate.
  • Looking after brothers and sisters.

What impact does being a young carer have?

Caring for someone can be very isolating, worrying and stressful. For young carers, this can negatively impact their experience in education. Over a quarter of young carers aged 11-15 regularly miss school [5]. This can have a lasting effect on their life chances.

One in three young carers said that their caring role makes them feel stressed. Research also shows that 23% of young carers in the UK said that their caring role had stopped them making friends.

Another common problem for young carers is actually recognising themselves as young carers. It’s usually only when they reach secondary school that they realise that their home life is different from that of their friends.

Siblings embracing

What support does Action for Children provide young carers?

At Action for Children we do our best to support young carers. We want to make sure they have happy and safe childhoods.

We offer practical and emotional support to ensure they enjoy and achieve.

We understand being a young carer can be very hard. We’re here to make things a little easier. We provide them with a to learn and have fun, and help let them balance their caring responsibilities with just being a child.


Sidekick is an anonymous and confidential text service for young carers. Our team are here to talk, answer any question or chat about worries and concerns. Young carers can text the service at any time. Our team will find the answer and send a reply within 24 hours.

With many hidden young carers across the UK, Sidekick is how Action for Children is bridging the gap. The service is open to any young carer in the UK – providing support beyond our existing services.

Help us do more

With your help, we can be a vital lifeline for even more UK children.

We can make sure they have the basics, like hot meals and proper winter clothes. And we could offer emergency support to keep homes warm and a fun activity for children who would otherwise miss out.

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Every child deserves a bright future. Together, we have the power to help children overcome abuse and neglect, poverty and poor mental health

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