Those numbers are expected to continue to grow in the years to come and Essex County Council is determined to ensure the young people have access to the help and support needed to prevent them from being disadvantaged by their caring responsibilities.
To coincide with the start of Carers’ Week, the council today officially launches a new key worker pilot project that will see young carers benefit from a more comprehensive and joined-up package of support.
The new model comes following feedback from young carers themselves and is being trialled in Braintree, where there were concerns about what support would be available in the area following the closure of a support group provided by Crossroads Care.
Key workers will work closely with the young people and their families and, where requested, will help with things such as access to mental health services, liaising with schools to improve attendance and attainment, finding social and leisure opportunities, signposting to other support services and intervening at times of crisis.
It is hoped the new model, which the council could roll out across the county from April 2018, will allow enable the council to track the progress of young carers more closely and on a longer term basis, allowing intervention to be made at key points where it is identified that they are being most affected by their caring responsibilities.
Cllr Ray Gooding, Essex County Council’s Cabinet Member for Education, said: “We estimate there are about 10,000 young carers in Essex who provide care to a loved one, often to the detriment of their own education and development.
“Unfortunately the vast majority are not known to us and often do not have access to the support needed to ensure they have the same opportunities as their peers.
“We hope this flexible and bespoke new approach will encourage more young carers to come forward and will allow us to make sure the right type of help and support is available as and when it is needed.”
Young carer Alex Tinham has helped care for his 70-year-old grandmother Pat Archer, who has dementia, since he was about 11.
Now 17, he also helps support his younger brother Ben when his father Stuart is working and helped care for his mum, who struggled with alcoholism and mental health problems, before she died in 2015.
Alex was among the county’s young carers who helped the council come up with the new key worker model and is in no doubt about its importance.
He said: “With a caring role you don’t tend to think about yourself and your emotions, you just bottle them up.
“Having one-to-one support gives you the opportunity to be heard and to let it all out.
“It’s a weight off your shoulders having that person who can understand what you’re going through and help you with elements of your life that your caring responsibilities make more difficult.
“Having that kind of support available to all young carers in Essex would be an absolutely fabulous idea.”
Throughout Carers’ Week, Essex County Council and its partners will be encouraging people to ‘Think Carer’, aiming to increase awareness of the huge part played by unpaid carers in our communities.