Shawmind is on a mission to raise the levels of mental health awareness and understanding in schools. This Carers Week, we want to raise awareness and highlight the challenges young carers may experience, and how schools can offer effective support.
Reports estimate that there are around 800,000 young carers in the UK. We want to help schools provide effective support for the mental health, wellbeing and education of children and especially young carers across the UK.
If you want to support the mental health of young carers in your school, find out more about Headucation.
Identifying young carers in the school
Before implementing practices to support young carers in your school, it’s important to identify who they are. Your school should have a system in place to identify who the young carers are so they can be offered the proper support they need.
Some signs someone may have caring responsibilities to look out for include:
- Regular lateness
- Change in hygiene/appearance
- Change in behaviour – becoming aggressive or angry, withdrawn or quieter
- Low attention span
- Lack of motivation
- Low attendance
- Not completing homework
- Feelings of anxiety
- Parent/guardian uses disabled parking space
- Lack of parent/guardian attendance to parents evening/other school events
- On pupil premium/free school meals
- Low mood/mental ill-health
If teachers or staff notice the above signs, it is an indication that the child needs to have a meeting with the young person to get to the bottom of the issue.
Building awareness and understanding
Supporting young carers starts by building awareness and understanding of their circumstances. It is important to highlight what a young carer is, what their responsibilities are and how this may have an impact on their education and mental health.
This way, staff and teachers are fully equipped with the knowledge of what a young carer is so they can provide the necessary support. Students should also be aware of what a young carer is so they can provide support to their peers.
Providing emotional support
Being a young carer can be an emotionally difficult and isolating experience. Many young people across the country are juggling being a carer with their social lives and educational responsibilities. This can have a significant impact on their mental health, and it is important to consider their wellbeing from a holistic lens.
Schools should implement support and counselling services like Headucation, or groups for the young carers in their school. They should have at least one trusted, dedicated staff member who they can confide in and express themselves to.
It is also worth setting up a club for the young carers in the school to meet up regularly, so they can find solace in individuals who are experiencing the same struggles as them and avoid being lonely. This is important for them, as many young carers often neglect their social lives, which can impact their mental health. Also, they can support each other emotionally and develop meaningful friendships, develop resilience and learn new skills.
Academic support and flexible learning
Young carers may often neglect their education due to their carer responsibilities. If teachers notice a decline or plateau in academic performance, it is important to provide academic support to help them through their challenges. This could include:
- Flexible deadlines and homework extensions
- Individualised learning plans
- Regular communication and check-ins
- Additional academic support and resources
- Homework clubs and study groups
- Academic mentoring
- Time management skills
- In-class support and accommodations
- Liaising with support services
- Celebrating achievements
This can significantly help a young carer with their academic responsibilities. It is also important to have regular check-ins to keep up-to-date with their lives and tailor the support accordingly.
Collaboration with carer support organisations
It is important to recognise when your institution needs professional advice and guidance when it comes to supporting your carers. There are many organisations and charities that can support you and provide advice so you can take the right steps when providing a young carer with support.
You could speak to your local council to find any local carer support organisations, and remain in consistent contact so they can keep up to date with your school, and you can keep your school’s wellbeing policy up to date.
Providing respite and relaxation opportunities
It is important to highlight the challenges young carers face and recognise their struggles. Where most young people finish school and go home to a place of relaxation, young carers may have a long list of duties that are waiting for them when they come home. Being constantly mentally and physically active can impact their mental wellbeing, leading to fatigue and exhaustion, compounded by the demands made of them emotionally by the adults in their care.
It is important for schools to support the mental health and wellbeing of young carers, and provide the opportunity for respite and relaxation if they feel they are physically or mentally exhausted. Teachers should be trained to recognise signs of exhaustion and offer relaxation opportunities and mental health days.
Young carers who need a break could be taken out of non-compulsory classes or provided with time to relax with a book in the library or take a peaceful walk on the playground with the supervision of a staff member. This can help them unwind and recuperate in time for their more important lessons.
Young carers should also be taught how to practise self-care, prioritise their wellbeing and stress management techniques such as mindfulness practices, so that they can use it when they are at home. This ensures that they are looking after themselves and building resilience.
Engaging with parents and guardians
Schools should be in regular contact with the parents or guardians of young carers, and understand any home circumstances that could impact them, or raise a safeguarding concern if warranted. Regular contact allows for schools to tailor the support and care they offer each young carer to ensure they are making their lives as easy as possible.
Schools should also regularly update parents or guardians on the support they are providing, and offer any resources or information to parents that can support the young carer.
Addressing attendance and punctuality issues
Young carers can often have a hard time being punctual or attending school. This can be due to their carer responsibilities overtaking their time, or their exhaustion from an irregular sleep schedule due to nights of caring.
Schools should implement strategies to address attendance and punctuality challenges some young carers may have. They should also do welfare checks on any absences to ensure the child is okay, and offer any support, or raise a safeguarding concern if appropriate. If a child is absent frequently, entice them to come to school by offering relaxed learning techniques, as they may not realise they need a break from being at home.
Evaluation and continuous improvement
Schools should regularly reflect on the effectiveness of their support strategies and implement any necessary changes or alterations if aspects of the strategies aren’t working as effectively as they should.
Collecting feedback from young carers within the school will allow schools to adapt accordingly and implement necessary changes, ultimately supporting the wellbeing and educational needs of the young carers.
Celebrating and recognising young carers
This carers week, celebrate and recognise the achievements, resilience and challenges young carers face. It is important to recognise their contributions and selflessness as they care for their families and communities.
Recognition of the contributions they make can uplift their spirits, boost their self-esteem and make them feel valued by their community.
Shawmind has a mission to improve children and teen’s mental health across the nation. We provide early intervention to prevent a further mental health crisis in the next generation. If you want to support Headucation, please donate or choose to do one of our mental health courses. Alternatively, you can book Headucation for your school.