MORE than 50,000 young people in the UK may be missing education, training and employment opportunities because they are caring for an ill or disabled parent.
A new report shows many young carers skip school, fail to do homework and fall asleep in class. Dr Saul Becker, co-author of the report commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and director of the young carers' research group at Loughborough University, told schools to stop discriminating against young carers.
"Some young carers will be seen as truants, persistent absentees or late arrivers. Some will fall asleep in class, others will be unable to do their homework. But many will keep the reasons for this secret because they are scared, that if they are found out, they will be taken into care," he said.
Dr Becker criticised social services for failing to stop up to 51,000 young people from providing regular or substantial care to an ill or disabled parent, often with no outside support. Even more young people provide what he describes as "significant" care.
He said schools had been slow to recognise young carers' needs: "Schools need to be far more sensitive to young carers. Often schools won't enter these kids for exams because they don't want poor performers on theirbooks. This has to end."
Dr Becker believes there is at least one pupil in every UK school who provides care for an ill or disabled parent or family member.
TAKING THE STRAIN OF PARENTS IN PAIN
KAREN, 22, has been caring for her mother, who has rheumatoid arthritis, for 10 years, doing the cooking and housework and helping her to wash and dress throughout her secondary-school career.
She believes that the only reason she managed, despite her massive extra domestic workload, to achieve A to C grades in three of her GCSEs was because her mother was in hospital at this time.
She did a BTEC at college and planned to go to university but then her grandmother suddenly suffered a stroke and Karen was forced to become a full-time carer for her grandmother as well as her mother.
GRAHAM'S mother has myasthenia gravis, a disease that affects the muscles and results in extreme tiredness and weakness.
Now 16, Graham has just left school with no A-C grade GCSEs.
His father left when he was 13 and since then he has had to empty his mother's commode, collect her benefit cheques, lift her in and out of her chair and the bath, help her monitor her blood sugar and do most of the cooking for the family.
Graham and his sister are supported by a young carer's project but their mother gets no outside support.