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Community is best place for support

Louise Macdonald, the young carers service co-ordinator with the Princess Royal Trust for Young Carers, said that community-based initiatives were often the best way to provide the type of sensitive support required.

"The national strategy is about integrating support for all young people, and young carers are included in that," Ms Macdonald said. "For some, that might be a good thing, but it will not provide the dedicated service and specialist support that focus only on young carers. At the moment, the network only offers specialist support for about 3,000 carers in Scotland, so there is a huge gap in services."

Many youngsters continue to shy away from coming forward to admit problems within their family, she says. "A lot is hidden as children don't want interference from social workers."

For that reason, the trust believes, the real figures for young carers (those aged under 18) could be much greater than official figures. A survey by the trust last year found that there could be as many as 100,000 in Scotland.

The trust is particularly concerned that figures from the 2001 census show there are only 16,701 young carers in Scotland. "These are the figures that drive policy and dictate resources," a spokeswoman said.

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