Councils face up to young carer duties

Neil Puffett
Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Local authorities face much work to be ready to deliver the "whole-family" approach to assessing carers' needs.

Momentous legislative changes that will require councils to provide more assistance to young carers may not be due to come into effect until next April, but efforts to ensure they have the intended impact are already under way.

This month, a consultation was launched on how local authorities should implement the legislation contained in the Care Act 2014, which contains a number of provisions relating to young carers.

A similar exercise is set to follow for the Children & Families Act 2014, which contains further young carer provisions.

Experts in the field say some authorities are already providing good quality support for young carers, but too many are not.

"Whole family" approach

Jenny Frank, programme manager of The Children's Society's Include project, says successful implementation of the "whole family" approach outlined in the Care Act - whereby adult services carrying out an assessment on an adult with care needs must also consider the needs of the entire family - will be critical to successful implementation.

If this is done properly, she says, it will stop young people taking on excessive caring roles and remove the need for support.

"The starting point needs to be preventing children from taking on inappropriate or excessive caring in the first place," Frank says.

"We know a number of local authorities where this has been best practice, but it has not been law before.

"At the moment, under the current system of eligibility, it is very much up to local authorities where they set the level.

"The big change is that it will now be needs led, rather than based on what resources are available.

"If the child is not having to care, it is going to improve their wellbeing and will be better all round in terms of saving money.

"Often it can be little things that don't cost much money that can make a big difference - such as changing the time carers come into a home."

She also wants local authorities to focus on improving transition services.

"When young people reach 17 or 18, they often fall through a gap," Frank says.

"They might want to have a job or career of their own, or want to go to university, but quite often they can't because of their caring role."

Anna Morris, senior policy officer at the Carers Trust, says the success of the changes will be largely down to how adult services and children's services work together. But she concedes that local authorities are facing difficult circumstances at the moment.

"Some have been thinking for some time about how to get their services ready, but for others, their financial circumstances, their commissioning cycles or service redesign or restructuring can have implications for how ready they are to take on the new duties," she says.

"But it doesn't necessarily cost more to look at integrating the ways they approach and support adults and families where there is illness or disability."

Good progress

According to Tanya Rayner, an operational manager in London for Family Action, which runs a number of young carer projects, some authorities in the capital are already making good progress towards the April 2015 implementation date.

She points to the fact that Newham Council has already begun looking at workforce capacity and what barriers there could potentially be.

"Some of the issues that have come up is how health services, adult services and children's services all work together,"

she says. "They all have different systems and ways of recording information."

Rayner says various organisations - such as support groups and schools - must be prepared to hold councils to account and use the new legislation as leverage to ensure young carers receive the help they are entitled to.

However, she foresees local authorities struggling to fulfil the new duties alongside those of other new laws about to come in.

"The question is how are they going to do it all," she says.

"For us, it is a tool. If I were managing a service, I would forever be on the phone to children's services wanting a child to be considered as being a child in need because of their caring role. Sometimes I was rather amazed that they didn't meet the local authority's threshold.

"What this new legislation does is give us leverage to ensure action is taken."

NEW LOCAL AUTHORITY DUTIES ON YOUNG CARERS

Care Act 2014

When carrying out an adult's or carer's assessment, if it appears that a child is involved in providing care, the local authority must consider:

  • The impact of the person's needs on the young carer's wellbeing, welfare, education and development; and
  • Whether any of the caring responsibilities the young carer is undertaking are inappropriate.

Children and Families Act 2014

All young carers under the age of 18 will be entitled to an assessment of their support needs. The local authority will then have to consider what services it can provide to help.

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