Research by the Children’s Society suggests that one in 12 children caring for sick or disabled relatives in England spends more than 15 hours a week caring for family members and one in 20 miss school.
Stoke-on-Trent city council wanted to work closely with schools to improve the life chances of this vulnerable group. And the measures we have established to raise the educational achievement of young carers are starting to make a real difference.
Since this work began, the average school attendance of young carers in Stoke has risen to over 92% – 13% higher than the national figure of 79%.
The authority serves a diverse population of 249,000. The area is made up of a number of distinctive communities so our emphasis is on delivering services locally to meet their needs. Education welfare officers are based in regional teams so a key element to the success of the scheme is the focus we place on effective information sharing.
Teams enter and view information on children and families in a single, shared electronic record. This has proved to be a much more efficient way of working than each team managing a separate database. With a few clicks, staff can log on and see details from social workers on a child’s home life alongside the latest information from school databases, such as their attendance.
The technology we use also enables them to find out quickly which other local authority teams the family is in contact with. This creates a clearer picture of a child’s circumstances so that the right support can be put in place sooner.
Using the data, we have identified 237 children and young people caring for relatives across Stoke. As our work progresses, we expect this figure to increase to around 800.
One good example of the success of our work is with a 13-year-old boy we will call Liam, who had been missing school. Looking at his record in more detail, our staff could see that his mother was being treated for cancer and realised that Liam had been missing lessons to visit her in hospital.
If they hadn’t seen information from Liam’s school alongside details of his family life, he might have been flagged as a truant. But with a deeper understanding of his circumstances, more informed decisions could be made about what support he required at home to prevent him from falling behind in school.
Now, if Liam has to miss a class or fails to complete homework on time because he has been busy caring for his mother, for example, his teachers are aware of the situation and can help him to catch up.
A classmate has been nominated to take notes for Liam when he cannot make it into lessons on time. He also benefits from regular day trips with other carers, giving him opportunities to visit the countryside or take part in sports.
We have introduced a network of young carer champions in each of the city’s schools who work with teachers to identify students demonstrating the tell-tale signs of caring, including coming in late regularly, looking permanently tired and exhausted, a prolonged inability to concentrate, signs of anxiety or stress or indications that they are not being looked after properly. Parents of young carers no longer receive the usual warnings if their children are not in school.
We now have around 200 children’s services staff across multiple departments in Stoke logging on to the system, including children’s social care, as well as teams providing support for teenaged parents and troubled families.
We have been able to use a wide range of data to identify 239 families classed as “troubled” and are already working to ensure they get the support they need to turn their lives around.
Having a more holistic view of the lives of the most vulnerable children and families has been essential to the success of our work with young carers. The team works closely with colleagues in adult social care, children’s social care, the education welfare team, social workers, the police and a host of other agencies. We are now focused on raising awareness of young carers more widely across local multi-agency teams so we can reach and help all of the city’s hidden carers.
Nearest tube – Elephant & Castle underground station (Northern and Bakerloo lines).
Nearest Railway Station – Elephant & Castle
Buses from Elephant and Castle – ask bus driver for Burgess Park. Bus numbers: 12, 171, 148, 176, 68, 484, 42, 40, 45