Energise Me at the Young Carers Festival
For 20 years, The Children’s Society’s Include Service and YMCA Fairthorne Group have hosted the annual Young Carers Festival. The largest gathering of young carers in the world, the Young Carers Festival is a chance for children and young people with caring responsibilities to come together, make new friends, try new things, and to have fun and relax. It also gives these young people the opportunity to have their voices heard and to influence change for young carers everywhere.
Who are young carers?
The 2011 census puts the number of young carers in England at 166,363, however additional research shows that the true number might be as high as 800,000. These young people are looking after family members who are ill, frail elderly, living with a disability or sensory impairment, or suffering from a mental health condition. Some young carers are providing more than 50 hours of care a week for their loved one.
Being a young carer has an impact on a child’s education, on their social life and relationships, and on their mental and physical wellbeing. The theme of this year’s Young Carers Festival was ‘Fit for the Future,’ with consultations and activities designed around what young carers need to be physically and mentally prepared for their future.
The importance of physical activity
The Chief Medical Officer recommends that children and young people take part in sport and physical activity for at least 60 minutes every day – a target that currently only 17.5% of children and young people are meeting. We know that boys are more likely than girls to be physically active and that children and young people from more affluent families are more likely to be physically active.
In addition, we know that taking part in sport and physical activity can improve physical wellbeing, positively impact individual development, lead to social and community development, contribute to economic development, and can improve mental wellbeing, for example by increasing happiness and self-esteem, and by reducing stress, anxiety, and depression.
What young carers tell us…
There is little research into the activity levels of young carers, however it is a safe assumption that many young carers will find it difficult to take part in regular sports and activities – whether due to their caring responsibilities, their family’s financial situation, or the many other reasons young people find it difficult to be active. At the Young Carers Festival, Energise Me wanted to find out more from the young carers about their experiences of and attitudes towards physical activity and sport.
We found only 17.5% of the young carers we spoke to exercised or undertook physical activity every day, and nearly 30% of the young carers we spoke to exercised on 2 or fewer days per week. When we asked the young carers about the type of activity that they usually participated in, or that they would like to try, individual activities such as cycling, running, gymnastics, and martial arts were the most popular. Team sports were also popular, with football and basketball the most commonly mentioned of these. It was also notable that a large number of the young carers recognised that walking – walking to school, walking the family dog – was also a valuable physical activity.
When asked, “How do you feel about sport and physical activity?” 60% of the responses were positive, 15% negative, and 25% neutral, with most young carers mentioning that sport and physical activity made them feel ‘happy’. A significant number, however, noted that they felt ‘self-conscious’ or ‘judged’. It is worth noting that the young carers who attend the Festival may not be fully representative of all young carers given the social and active nature of attending such an event.
We also asked the young carers what might encourage them to do more exercise or activity. “Social support” such as being able to go with a friend or family member accounted for a third of the responses, with “opportunities” and “time” also common themes. The young carers wanted a variety of activity choices and mentioned that accessibility, cost, and having the freedom to choose were important factors. They also spoke about the difficulty of “fitting it all in” – school, homework, their caring responsibilities, and physical activity and exercise.
Broadly, we found that talking to the young carers about more ‘unusual’ types of physical activity, such as Y-ball or Quidditch, elicited a more positive response. These were perceived as non-gendered, and more exciting than traditional team sports, particularly among those young carers who had more negative feelings towards physical activity. The Harry Potter association was also a clear hook!
There is work to be done
Our time at the Young Carers Festival tells us that there is more work to be done: policy work to ensure that young carers receive the support that they need to be active and to enjoy life; awareness raising work to ensure that our sports workforce are aware of the challenges young carers face, and to ensure that young carers are made aware of the benefits of physical activity, and the variety of options available; and more research into how we can encourage young carers – and all young people – to be physically active.
If you work with young carers in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, and would like to discuss how you can help them to be more physically active through a dedicated Satellite Club, please get in touch with…