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Young carers are children and young people under 18 who provide or intend to provide care, assistance, or support to a family member or a friend, who has a chronic illness, disability, frailty or addiction. They assume a level of responsibility which would usually be associated with an adult.

Young carers are children and young people under 18 who provide or intend to provide care, assistance, or support to a family member or a friend, who has a chronic illness, disability, frailty or addiction. They assume a level of responsibility which would usually be associated with an adult.

Young carers aged 15-17 are called “adolescent young carers” (AYCs). They deserve special attention, as they are in a key, transitional phase of their development: moving from childhood into adulthood.

There is no exact figure for how many young carers there are in Europe. However, according to some pilot projects and available statistics, 7-8% of all European children and teenagers are young carers. Despite the relevance of the phenomenon, young carers are still largely invisible to public authorities and service providers.

The reasons why children become carers are manifold and include (among others) the cultural background, a sense of duty, the lack of alternative options, love and empathy  for the care recipient, the lack of financial and practical resources within families.

There is a continuum of children providing care, which starts with caring about (low levels of care responsibility, routine levels of caregiving and little evidence of negative outcomes) moving to taking care of (increasing care tasks and responsibilities) to caring for (high levels of care responsibility, substantial regular and significant caregiving, evidence of significant negative outcomes).

Number of young carers across Europe

Although there is currently very limited data regarding the number of young (adult) carers across Europe, some national statistics and pilot projects have helped to unveil a substantial – and yet largely unknown – population group.

The 2011 census for the UK (England and Wales) revealed that there are 177.918 young carers under the age of 18.The number of young carers is increasing over time: 27.976 more than in 2001 (an increase of 19% over 10 years).

In Ireland, the 2016 Census showed that 3.800 children under 15 years engaged in providing care to others, accounting for 1,9 % of all carers. Half of these children (1.901) providing unpaid care were aged 10 and under. In Italy, according to the most recent national statistics, there are 391.000 young and young adult carers (15-24 years), corresponding to 6,6 % of the whole population.

Census and official statistics are very important. Yet, they often overlook young carers or underestimate their number (the adult who fills in the census may not be aware/want to reveal that in his family there is a young carer). As confirmation of this, an unofficial data from a 2018 BBC survey revealed there are 800.000 young carers in England (opposed to the 166.000 identified via the Census).

For other countries, research projects or unofficial sources give us the following estimated numbers: in the Netherlands, young carers form the 6% of the population aged 13-17. In Switzerland, 7,9% of children aged 10-15 years are young carers. In Sweden 7% of children aged 14-16 years carry out substantial amounts of caring.

What do young carers do?

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

The impact of caring on…

Mental health and wellbeing

There are some positive impacts related to caring, for example young carers can gain satisfaction from caring and experience self-esteem, empathy, maturity. Yet, having to reconcile the challenges that life throws at them with caring responsibilities can be overwhelming. The pressure associated with caring is considered as a risk factor for mental ill-health.


Young carers may face particular barriers in relation to school and further education: they may have frequent lateness, absences and ultimately, they may be forced to drop out. Similarly, it can be challenging to combine paid employment with caring responsibilities.

Social life

Young carers may have less time for personal development and leisure and be isolated. They can also become victims of social stigma and bullying and may be more frequently subject to social exclusion throughout their life course.

Despite these negative impacts, young carers are still too often invisible to policy makers and service providers.

 “We ignore young carers at our peril and at the peril of these children’s future.”

Prof Saul Becker, University of Sussex

Why are young carers invisible?

  • Young carers do not recognise themselves as young carers
  • They are afraid of being taken away from their home by social services/child protection.
  • They are afraid of being judged or misunderstood by their peers, teachers or service providers
  • There is stigma (especially when cared for person has mental illness or substance dependency)
  • They are uncertain about who to talk to
  • They believe that nothing will change if they disclose their caring responsibilities
  • Service providers tend to focus on the cared for person
  • Wider community is not aware of specific services for young carers (if any exist)

Young carers remain unidentified and their needs are not met.

Why do we need to address the issue?

Young carers are unable to fully enjoy their human rights

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that “Every child has the right to…”- among others- rest and leisure (Article 31), education (Articles 28 & 29), adequate standard of living (Article 27), express their views (Article 12), enjoy the highest attainable standard of health (Article 24).

Young carers, just like all children, should be able to enjoy the rights to which they are entitled. Too often though, the challenges they face directly hinders that process and so the level playing field may no longer be sufficient to guarantee equal opportunities for young carers. Young carers are a particularly vulnerable group of children and should be recognised as such. They should not only benefit from the universal implementation of their rights but be subject to additional and tailored policy and support measures with a scale and intensity that is proportionate to their level of disadvantage. This is in line with the international human rights law which requires States to adopt affirmative actions in fulfilling their obligations to respect the equality principle. It can be argued that the lack of positive actions from States to support young carers is a failure to protect and promote their rights

Supporting young carers makes economic sense

  • Early school leaving creates high individual, social and economic costs.

Young carers have been identified as a population group at higher risk of becoming “NEET” (Not in Education, Employment or Training), often as a result of challenges in obtaining relevant qualifications. They often face barriers in relation to school and further education: they may have punctuality issues, experience absenteeism and ultimately, be forced to drop out of education. Similarly, they may struggle to combine paid employment with their caring responsibilities.

Young people with only lower secondary education or less are more often affected by unemployment, are more likely to depend on social benefits and have a higher risk of social exclusion. Their lifetime earnings, well-being and health are negatively impacted, as well as their participation in democratic processes.

In addition to the individual costs, early school leaving hampers economic and social development and is a serious obstacle to the European Union’s goal of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. That is explicitly recognised by the Europe 2020 strategy, which includes the target of reducing the EU average rate of early school leavers to under 10%.

  • Poor mental health is a cost for societies.

At international level, there is growing recognition of the importance of early intervention and prevention to avoid poor health outcomes. As stressed by the World Health Organisation, promoting and protecting children and adolescents’ health brings benefits not just to their health, both in the short and the long term, it also contributes to economies and society, with healthy (young) adults able to make greater contributions to the workforce, their families, communities and society as a whole.

Investing in young people is a social investment. As recognised by the EU in the Social investment Package, through early intervention, socio-economic inequalities can be tackled at the roots, the cycle of disadvantages can be broken and equality of opportunity can thus be promoted.



It’s important for young carers to be noticed, rather than having to reach out themselves. Here the education and youth sectors as well as health and social care professionals, employers and families all have a leading role to play.


Once young carers have been identified, there has to be a system of support in place. Otherwise, without proper services in place, the identification can feel meaningless at best, and harmful at worse!


Finally, no policy or practice that concerns and impacts on young carers should be developed without them. Young carers should be invited to co-produce all initiatives that concern them.

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