For some schoolkids, the six-week break is not the carefree endless summer it is for most, and the impending new school year carries a host of worries, greater than increased homework.
Young carers and their guardians often head into the new school year – having missed out on the breaks enjoyed by peers, due to ongoing caring responsibilities – unprepared for the changes to studies, routine and responsibility.
Families also face issues with isolation, food poverty and, in some cases, mental health issues.
However, help is at hand in the form of Sunderland Carers Centre.
Throughout the school year, Sunderland Carers Centre is committed to helping young carers, and their families, to cope with the additional pressures that caring for a loved one can bring. Whether it’s providing one-to-one support or the chance to enjoy fun activities and days out via the Young Carers Group, the Centre is there to help.
To help ease the transition between holiday and term-time, Centre specialists work with schools and colleges to ensure the correct protocols and procedures are in place to accommodate the specific needs of young carers. A key part of this process is helping teachers and tutors understand the complex situations that many young carers across the city require.
Young carers are also encouraged to carry a card containing brief details of their caring duties and requirements, so they can be identified by their secondary school.
Amanda Brown, Sunderland Carers Centre Deputy Chief Executive, said: “Our staff work with schools all year, but especially at the start of each school year to ease the transition for youngsters.
“We ensure that schools understand how young carers often lead complex lives and can be under immense pressure. By understanding their needs, teachers can better accommodate our youngsters – if they’re having an especially tough day for example, it’s important teachers understand why and know how to offer support.
“We also work with carers themselves to help them prepare for the new school year,” added Amanda. “Whether its offering one-to-one support, signposting outside organisations, or taking them on day trips – there is always something for our young carers.”
Young carer and student, Phoebe Collins, 18, of Pennywell, said: “The Carers Centre does not only provide support over the summer break, it also helps prepare you for school or college and helps the school or college prepare for you!”
Phoebe – who with twin brother David, are primary carers for their mother Joyce, who suffers from a range of mobility issues – is now studying painting and decorating at college.
She added: “Every young carer has unique requirements, but the staff at the Carers Centre are fantastic and making sure that when you arrive at a new school they are briefed and aware of any potential issues.”
But Carers Centre work is not limited to term time – the team also worked tirelessly throughout the summer, pooling resources to ensure young carers had chance to unwind and relax.
During summer, young carers have their usual daily caring duties to fulfil, but they can sometimes be increased, particularly if they help look after a school-age sibling also on a long summer break.
Young Carers Development Worker, Sue Callaghan, has spent the last 20 years providing services for Sunderland people who dedicate their lives to caring for others. Sue, and colleagues, are now supporting an increasing amount of families impacted by food poverty during holiday time.
Sue said: “In all my time at Sunderland Carers, I have never known levels of poverty so extreme. We have families really struggling during the summer holidays, with many forced to make decisions like whether to run a hot bath or buy groceries.
“Affording just one extra meal a day is beyond a lot of our users, and we signpost many people to foodbanks and other support organisations around the city. It is vital that people know there are organisations that can help them until they are back on a firmer financial footing once again.”
Statistics demonstrate an alarming increase in the number of people using food banks across the UK, as they struggle to afford food. The Trussell Trust provided over 1.1m three-day emergency food packages over the last year, an increase of 73,645 from the previous year.
It is estimated that 30% of children are living in poverty in Sunderland, that rises to 38% of children for Middlesbrough and almost half of all children live in poverty in areas of Newcastle.
Amanda added: “Sunderland Carers Centre will help anyone who contacts us with concerns about feeding their families and loved ones. Our work on holiday hunger does not stop just because the holidays have – we are a vital resource and lifeline to many in the community, and we are here to help all year round.”