'Under the radar' young carers denied support, says study
Jack Miller, 13, cannot remember a time when his father, Andy, was fully well.
Andy's condition means he can never be left alone - and Jack has helped care for him since he was tiny.
Jack's local council provides support but research for the Children's Commissioner for England suggests that the vast majority of young carers are "off the radar".
This is "absolutely unacceptable", according to the Commissioner, Anne Longfield.
Andy has a deteriorating genetic condition which has forced him to use a wheelchair for the past four years.
Even going to the bathroom can put him at risk of a fall.
Jack stands in for his mother, Ruth, who is the primary carer, if she ever needs to go out.
"It's a matter of someone being here all the time. I rely heavily on Jack," explains Ruth.
Jack administers Andy's medication, prepares food and drink, helps him move around the flat and pushes his wheelchair when they go out.
He and his father have a very close relationship - but both parents fear their son has "missed out on a normal upbringing".
For the past year Jack has been part of a young carers project run by Hounslow Council in west London which provides crucial support.
"I go there after school sometimes. It's like a respite. You can go there and relax and talk to people who are in the same position as you," says Jack.
Local councils have a statutory duty to assess the needs of young carers, but many do not get the help they need, the study suggests.
The researchers asked every local authority in England for the numbers of young carers they support.
Of England's 153 local authorities, 118 provided data, revealing that they are supporting 28,000 young carers aged between five and 17.
But these figures are massively short of the 166,000 young carers identified in England by the 2011 Census.
Having adjusted the figures to account for not receiving data from 35 councils, the researchers calculate a shortfall of almost 133,000 or 80% of young carers.
"Not all children with caring responsibilities will need support from their council but it is vital that those who do are properly assessed and the right help put in place," said Ms Longfield.
"This report poses significant questions for local authorities about how they identify, assess and support young carers.
"It is absolutely unacceptable to have so many children with considerable caring responsibilities going under the radar, invisible to the authorities and denied the opportunities available to other children."
The Local Government Association said councils across England were working hard to ensure that young carers are properly supported - but said this was "proving increasingly difficult", given funding cuts and rising pressure on children's services overall.
"The limited funding available has to be carefully targeted at those children and young people who are in the greatest need [and] unfortunately, this means that councils are forced to make increasingly difficult decisions," said Richard Watts, chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board.
"However, it is important to be clear that young carers who aren't receiving support are not 'invisible' to authorities; all young carers should receive an assessment to establish whether support is needed, with new assessments undertaken if their circumstances change," said Mr Watts.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: "Young carers are this country's unsung heroes, selflessly providing support for the people they love, but their own needs can often be overlooked.
"That's why we changed the law to make sure young carers are identified and supported as early as possible, and councils are responsible for delivering this.
"Next year we will be publishing a strategy looking at the issues affecting these children and what more can be done to give them the help they need."