The role of schools in identification, response and support
Schools can play a critical role in supporting young carers to engage and remain engaged in education through early identification and early intervention. When young carers are supported, acknowledged and respected in their own right they are able to achieve and participate more actively at school and in their community. This is critical in ensuring that young carers have every opportunity to thrive at school and beyond. Supporting young carers will not only improve outcomes for these students, but can also help to improve school attendance, engagement and attainment levels.
Identifying young carers
Identifying that a student has caring responsibilities is an important enabling step for schools to respond to and support the education of the student. Young carers can be in both primary school and secondary school. A large proportion of young carers experience barriers in disclosing their experience as a young carer, although this is not the case for all young carers. Many young people with significant caring responsibilities do not see themselves as a ‘young carer’. This is an important consideration for schools when identifying young carers.
There are a number of ways schools may identify young carers, for example:
- a teacher or other staff member has concerns about the young person and enquires about these concerns with the young person
- the student discloses their caring responsibilities to a school staff member
- a support service involved with the student notifies the school
- the person being cared for notifies the school
- staff can refer to the young carer to assist with identifying young carers.
Looking out for the signs
There are a number of signs that a student may have caring responsibilities. These signs can also be indicators of other circumstances; for example, these signs may be similar to those experienced by a student who is being bullied. While it is important to not make assumptions that someone is a young carer because they are exhibiting certain behaviours or patterns, it is useful to have a sense of some of the common signs. These signs can prompt conversations which determine whether a student is a young carer and if they need support. Students exhibiting the following signs should be considered by school staff:
- punctuality – arriving late to school with no clear explanation or handing in assignments late with no clear explanation
- stress – exhibiting signs that they are stressed or overwhelmed
- isolation – appearing to be isolated from others or may be experiencing bullying
- attendance/absences/truancy – frequently missing days from school with no clear explanation
- lack of parental involvement or engagement – parents of the student do not attend parent teacher interviews or school meetings with no clear explanation
- behaviour – not focusing during class or is disruptive
- academic performance – underperforming or has been previously performing but can’t maintain it
- fatigue – demonstrating an inability to concentrate and complaining of tiredness.
Schools can consider adopting the School-wide positive behaviour support which provides a framework for responding to and supporting students who are displaying these signs. This includes adopting a multi-tiered system of supports.
Recording young carer status in CASES21
From March 2020, CASES21 includes a field for young carer status. When school staff become aware that a young person has caring responsibilities, they should:
- let the student/parent know that the school will record the young carer status in CASES21 to assist them to be better supported
- if appropriate, determine the level of care being provided by the young carer using the continuum of care as a guide. For some carers, they may be providing episodic care. Others may be caring more regularly. This is likely to be fluid and can change depending on the situation, which is why it is important to monitor and check in regularly with the young person
- notify the school’s Business Manager that the student is a young carer so they can record it in CASES21.
Privacy considerations in recording the young carer status in CASES21
When the student or their parent discloses their carer status, they must be advised that it will be recorded in CASES21 as part of the overall interactions with them. Written consent is not required to add this information into CASES21, however, schools are required to clearly explain to the young person and their families why this information is being recorded and how the information is used, stored and treated — if requested by the young person or their families.
A student’s carer status may change. When a student advises that they are no longer a carer, the young carer flag should be removed from CASES21.
The young carer flag is used to enable schools to support students who have caring responsibilities. Supports may include activities completed by schools, such as developing an Individual Education Plan, establishing a Student Support Group and helping students to access other external supports such as young carer programs. Students may not opt out of having young carer status recorded in CASES21; however, students and family members may choose not to participate in activities and services that are supports for young carers.
Responding to identification
School staff members who become aware that a student is a young carer, can take the following steps:
- identify a staff member that the young person feels comfortable having a more in-depth follow up discussion with
- initiate a more in-depth conversation with the young person and or their family (if appropriate) in a safe and confidential place
- record the status of the student as a young carer in CASES21 and explain to the student, in an age appropriate way, that young carer status will be noted on their records to ensure they get all the supports they need
It is important to note that a young person having caring responsibilities does not automatically mean that there are child protection concerns. Many young carers do not have such concerns and involving Child Protection where there are no concerns is potentially traumatising. However, if school staff have any concerns relating to child safety they must follow the guidance on Child Protection and the Child Safe Standards .
Young carers are a diverse group, and it is important to ensure that young carers and the person being cared for have their views, best interests and cultural identity taken into account. For example, if the young person is Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander, they may have a different understanding of family and family roles that may influence the way they talk about their caring responsibilities.
Supporting young carers in your school
There are a range of supports, adjustments and options that can be utilised to ensure that young carers engage in and remain engaged in education, as well as to support their social and emotional wellbeing.
Student support groups
School principals should establish a student support group (SSG) for students that have caring responsibilities where it is considered that this will support their needs. Information and guidance on establishing SSGs is available at: Student Support Groups.
Individual education plan
Schools should develop an individual education plan (IEP)) for students that have caring responsibilities where this will support their learning. The purpose of an IEP is to describe a set of strategies to address the particular educational needs of the young carer. Advice on developing IEPs is available at: Individual Education Plans.
Monitoring and updating carer status
School staff who are aware of a student that is a young carer are encouraged to implement processes to regularly check in with the student to monitor their wellbeing, engagement in education and any changes to their circumstances or situation.
The young person’s caring role may change from time to time and they may be an episodic carer. For example, they were considered to have light caring responsibilities but are now considered to have very heavy caring responsibilities. In this case, it is best practice for schools to update this information in CASES21. This should prompt a review of the supports as well as a prompt to inform relevant support staff such as members of the SSG if established.
Student Support Services
Student Support Services (SSS) are department area based staff that comprise of professionals including psychologists, speech pathologists and social workers. They work as part of an integrated health and wellbeing team within networks of schools, focusing on providing group-based and individual support, workforce capacity building and the provision of specialised services.
For more information on Student Support Services, including referrals to these services, refer to: Student Support Services.
Headspace counselling for secondary students
Secondary students of Victorian government schools can access to face-to-face and telephone counselling services from headspace. For further information, visit: headspace counselling for secondary .
Mental health toolkit
The Mental Health Toolkit provides expert guidance and resources on mental health promotion and support aimed at schools and school communities, health and wellbeing workforces and mental health practitioners. Further information is available here: Mental healthand wellbeing .
Peer support groups
Young carers often feel different or isolated from their peers, have limited opportunities for socialisation, and can experience bullying. Peer support groups can be an effective method to enable young cares to get together to socialise, have a break, share experiences and seek the advice of other young people who have caring responsibilities.
Peer support groups are generally established by a staff member in school who has a good understand and appreciation of the role of young carers. They are run on a regular basis (for example, every fortnight) at a time that is suitable for the group members. Young carers should be encouraged to take ownership of the groups and decide what they want to use the meetings for.
Reviewed 08 February 2023