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Shock as unpaid carers revealed to be as young as five years old in Staffordshire

Community leaders have spoken out about the challenges faced by unpaid carers as young as five years old who look after loved ones in Staffordshire.

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Staffordshire County Council's Stafford headquarters

More than 80,000 Staffordshire residents – including children – provided unpaid care to a loved one each week according to the 2021 Census, but many have faced stress or financial difficulties, as well as struggling to access support such as respite care.

A new strategy aims to help unpaid carers to obtain the support they need however, as well as raising awareness for employers and the community of their vital work.

The Staffordshire’s All Age Carers Strategy 2024 – 2029 has been produced by Staffordshire County Council, the area’s Integrated Care Board (ICB) and other organisations, with more than 400 unpaid carers contributing their views and experiences through online surveys and in-person focus groups.

The strategy was approved by the council’s cabinet on Wednesday and has been welcomed by community leaders including Stafford Borough councillor Louise Nixon. She said: “In my view, this is a first step in achieving genuine equality within the community.”

County councillor Mike Wilcox, cabinet member for health and care, said: “There are 1,610 young carers aged between five and 17 – and 38% of these young carers have told us they struggle to balance their caring role and, in many cases, going to school. Carers are more likely to suffer from poor health compared to the general population, mainly due to the lack of support and information, as well as financial concerns, stress and isolation.

“I have accepted some of the feedback from those who have engaged with us through the survey. Many said it was difficult to find information about support, services and benefits.

“Many also said that caring had caused some or a lot of financial difficulties. On the supporting of carer-friendly communities, many said ‘I do some things I value or enjoy, but not enough of them’ and others said ‘I have some control of my daily life, but not enough’ and ‘I am neglecting myself or sometimes can’t look after myself well enough’.

“This is the message we are getting back from carers. So it’s really important that we listen, act upon what we have heard and put in place this new strategy that will help, support and signpost, as well as creating that working relationship with carers, and that we ensure that they feel valued and know where to turn if things start to get on top of them.

“Carers make an extraordinary contribution in helping their loved ones lead healthier and more independent lives, and it is important that they are supported to care for them as long as they want to. This new strategy – produced in partnership with the Integrated Care Board (ICB) and with direct input from carers themselves – recognises the extraordinary contribution carers make up and down the county, and ensures they have the help and support they need.

“It also reflects how we’ll continue to seek the views of carers, and work with them to ensure they are aware of the support available and building access to support in their own communities. We’ve listened to what carers want and in building this strategy and have also integrated the needs of our inspirational young carers to ensure support specific needs.”

Members of the county council’s Health and Care Overview and Scrutiny Committee also considered the strategy at a meeting ahead of the cabinet approval. And a number of members shared their own personal experiences, as well as the issues faced by their residents.

Councillor Charlotte Atkins said: “I welcome the strategy but recognise it is going to be within existing resources. There seems to be a big gulf between the aspirations of the strategy and the report back from carers.

“For instance, you talk about breaks from caring, a range of affordable and personalised opportunities to enable carers to have a break. But when 71% of those surveyed had no idea how to access respite care, how are you going to bridge that gap?

“You talk about support and priority access for mental health services for young carers, when in reality we’re talking about a six-month wait. So how are you going to bridge that huge gulf between reality as seen by carers and the strategy?”

Councillor Jill Hood said: “In my opinion it doesn’t reflect what goes on in real life. I haven’t met one carer who has control of their daily life.

“And eligibility for respite care when you’re a carer – I’ve seen carers on their knees because they’re so desperate for a few days. It takes months and months to refer to mental health services and that’s where we’re failing young carers.”

Councilllor Ann Edgeller, the authority’s mental health champion, said: “My heart goes out everybody who is a carer – anybody in this room could become a carer overnight. My concern is for young carers and I would like to know what reaction you are getting from schools.

“The mental health of these children really worries me because it is bound to have an impact. What sort of respite do they get?”

Councillor Phil Hewitt said: “I read this and it has a certain emotion for me, I absolutely welcome it. I used to be a carer and I didn’t know – and I wonder how many other people don’t know they are carers.

“I cared for a very close family member for a number of years before she sadly passed away. I was just doing what a close family member would do.

“But it’s not about the report, it’s how we deliver it and the culture behind it. An agency used to call me up to check I was OK.

“After a number of calls from them my reply was ‘you are just one more job I have in my life, picking up the phone to say I’m fine or I’m not fine. Unless you do something, please stop troubling me.’

“I think they were quite shocked at my answer – my answer was emotive. Amazingly then they did something, which was fantastic, and if we get the culture change based on this report that’s fantastic.”