Fine Gael social and family affairs spokesperson David Stanton said yesterday that around 3,000 of Ireland’s 150,000 carers are aged 15-17 and receive no formal assistance from the State.
Research due to be published later this year by University College Cork and Combat Poverty shows that children as young as 12 regularly miss school because of their caring obligation.
Mr Stanton said that, unlike in Britain, financial supports, such as the carers’ allowance, were only available to those aged 18 years or older in Ireland.
A recent study by Barnardos and Trinity College Dublin found that 7% of teenage carers are providing care for 43 hours or more a week. And while 80% provide one to 14 hours of care a week, the level of care could still mean they were missing out on socialising with people their own age.
“The lot of our young carers must be improved,” said Mr Stanton, who pointed out that he had repeatedly urged Minister for Social Affairs Seamus Brennan and Education Minister Mary Hanafin to support Ireland’s underage carers.
“Providing financial support would be a good start but putting emotional and social supports in place are also vital,” he said.
Catherine Fox of the Irish Carers’ Association said it had urged the Government to support a national strategy, including supports for young carers, more than a year-and-a-half ago.
The Central Statistics Office puts the number of young carers at 2,997, but the association believes the number is far higher.
“Young carers and their families often do not want to admit that they are providing care because of fears that social services will get involved,” Ms Fox said.
“If young people are providing care their education must be suffering. They are also suffering emotionally because they cannot mix with their friends.”
Ms Fox said members of the association often visited schools to talk about what carers did, and children had come forward and said they were caring for a relative at home.
“We can intervene on their behalf and get help for them but until we know how many young people are out there we cannot know how best to respond to their needs,” she said.