The thousands who feed, wash and dress their parents pay a heavy price in stress, bullying and reduced attainment, writes Dorothy Lepkowska
More than 175,000 children will get up this morning and start the day by washing and feeding their sick parents.
They are among up to three million children who live with mothers and fathers suffering health problems and disability, many of whom need constant care.
The pressures on carer children can be intolerable. Many regularly miss school and fall behind with their studies because they cannot bear to leave their parents alone all day. Their childhoods are cut short by the burden of responsibility, and they are often bullied at schools because of their lifestyles.
Now a campaign is to be launched to highlight their plight.
The Children's Services Network is to host a conference in London next month, aimed at those who work with and support carers, including social workers and children's charities.
One in five of the known child carers misses school regularly, and more than a fifth receive no outside help. The daily tasks for about 18 per cent include intimate care of their parents.
Most carers (56 per cent) are girls and 84 per cent are of white European origin. Fifty-six per cent live in lone-parent families.
Half of parents who are cared for by their children have a physical illness, 29 per cent have mental health problems and 17 per cent have learning disabilities.
Two-thirds of young carers do the domestic chores and 48 per cent provide some sort of nursing. More than 10 per cent also care for younger siblings.
Last month, a group of young carers, supported by the Children's Society, lobbied politicians to help them balance caring responsibilities with school work.
The eight youngsters told MPs, including Beverley Hughes, minister for young people, children and families, that they are at risk of falling behind at school.
Ian, a 15-year-old from Cornwall who looks after his mother, said: "It's really important that we get the chance to let people know what it's like being a young carer.
"As young people spend most of their time at school, teachers need to be aware of the additional support young carers might need. We want to do well at school, but sometimes our caring responsibilities take over."
Martin Rogers, of the CSN, said: "Very few people, apart from those who deal every day with these children, know what life is like for them. Many of these children fall between the two stools of children's and adult support services, and receive inadequate support which just aggravates their situation.
"Although many would not give up their role as a carer, they deserve to be properly supported by professionals who know who they are, and what their needs are.
"On top of it all, when they do go to school, they are bullied because they don't have the social lives that other children have. The fact there are so many of these children suggests that every single school has at least one child who is in this situation, and in many cases their teachers don't even know about it."
For more information about the conference go to www.csn.info