Barnardo’s warn health reforms ‘could leave more children caring for loved ones without support’

More children could be forced to care for their sick loved ones without any support under the Government’s proposed health reforms, a leading charity has warned.

The Health and Care Bill could lead to more sick and disabled adults being discharged from hospital into the sole care of children, without any assessment of what help their carers might need, according to Barnardo’s.

It says the legislation as currently drafted “risks being a Bill written by adults for adults” and fails to recognise the needs of vulnerable child carers.

The Care Act 2014 requires hospital patients with ongoing care and support needs to have an assessment prior to being discharged.

Young carers are usually identified and referred for their own needs assessment to their local authority, but the new Bill as drafted removes the requirement for the hospital assessment, which Barnardo’s says creates a missed opportunity for young carers to be spotted.

It says children are already slipping through the net and it is worried that the new legislation could lead to more young people caring under the radar and sacrificing their education or mental health.

Research by Nottingham University and the BBC in 2018 estimated that 7% of children aged 11-15 were undertaking a “significant” caring role in England.

Comparing trends from the 2018 findings with Freedom of Information responses to the broadcaster from councils last year suggests that nearly 180,000 children who care for a relative may be missing out on support because they are not known to their council.

On Wednesday the House of Lords is set to debate a cross-party amendment, which would introduce a requirement for NHS bodies to inform the local authority where any new or existing young carer lives to ensure they are given the right support.

Barnardo’s says hospital staff are in a vital position to identify young carers, as children are often reluctant to identify as such for fear of getting their parents into trouble, and should routinely ask who will care for the adult patient before they are discharged.

It added that society must protect children “from taking on too much responsibility at a young age”.

Interim co chief executive Lynn Perry told the PA news agency some children are spending up to 30 hours a week caring for loved ones, while attending school, preparing meals, running errands, supporting siblings and managing homework.

She said: “That can really take its toll in terms of the fatigue experienced by children and young people, it might limit their own social activity, it might impact on their homework, school attendance, school attainment, and so it’s really important that those children and young people are effectively identified and there is support in place for them.”

Marisa Olusemo (pictured) was 15 and preparing for her GCSEs when her mother Jacqueline was discharged from hospital after having her leg amputated following complications from diabetes.

She said she became a young carer “without realising it”, on top of taking on greater caring responsibilities for her brother who has learning difficulties.

While hospital staff focused on making the home more accessible for a wheelchair user, she said nobody spoke to her directly or offered her any support or information.

The now-18-year-old, who lives in East London, said: “I felt overlooked and ignored by the healthcare professionals. I would tidy the house when nurses came for home visits and help them while they visited.

“I would also accompany my mum to GP appointments, but none of this prompted any questions or checks from the professionals.

“As a result, my mental health really suffered. I started to have anxiety attacks and my schoolwork became worse. I have now also developed a strong phobia of hospitals.

“Some of that impact could have been avoided if support had been in place for me from the start.”

Ms Olusemo, who said the help she received when she was referred to Barnardo’s Young Carers’ Service by her school “has made a big difference”, is now in her first year of studying music at university.

She added: “It makes me feel really sad to know that there could be tens of thousands of other young carers who are going under the radar and not being supported, as without help it can really affect your mental health and be such an isolating, ongoing thing to deal with.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Everyone should receive the care and support they need in the right place, at the right time, meaning no patient should be discharged until it is safe to do so.

“It is not true that the Bill will lead to people being discharged without appropriate support in place.

“If families and carers need interim support from health and care services, this should be identified at discharge and appropriate support should be put in place before they are discharged home.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2022, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Barnardo’s / PA.