The summer holidays are meant to be a time for children to have a break from the pressures of school but for an estimated 700,000 children and young people across the UK, it is a time to spend caring for sick or disabled family instead.
Nearly three quarters (72%) of young carers have reported that they feel lonely and suffer isolation during the six week break, unable to see friends or even get out of the house.
The report, conducted by two charities - Action for Children and Carers Trust - found 47% of carers under 18 years old are spending more than four hours a day in a caring role: the equivalent of losing an entire week of their holidays.
Children’s charity Barnardo’s says that the average age of a young carer in the UK is 12, and typically they are tasked with practical help around the home such as cooking, housework and shopping; physical care, such as helping someone out of bed; and personal care, such as helping someone dress.
The new report found this responsibility left 68% of young people feeling more stressed and worried during the holiday period than the rest of the year.
One in five of the children asked have never been on a holiday with their family and 57% were already anxious about sharing what they did in the break when they go back to school in September.
Oliver Davies, 12 from Bridgend, helps his mum, Hayley, care for his nine-year-old brother Leo, who has a form of autism. He said: “I feel lonely in that I don’t get to go out with my friends throughout the summer holidays.
“I love my brother and it feels very normal to look after him and help my mum whenever I can, but I can feel very isolated in the summer holidays.”
Meanwhile 14-year-old Jess Siagian, from Carlyon Bay, in Cornwall, cares for her brother Jacob, 13, every day of the week during the summer holiday (apart from a five hour respite, once a week, when a professional carer gives her a break).
She said: “Jacob has quadriplegic cerebral palsy and is registered blind, so we need to be with him all the time. My mum and I take it in turns caring for him and we have to do everything including getting him out of bed in the morning, giving him a bath and dressing him.
“I dread the extra hours I have to do in the summer holidays as it can get very boring. It’s really hard for us go out as a family – so we end up staying at home a lot. Even if I just need a lift to go and see my friends, we have to get Jacob into the car. I spend most nights face-timing with friends to stay in contact rather than meeting up.”
“I dread the extra hours I have to do in the summer holidays as it can get very boring.'
As a result of the findings the charities have called on the government to fund support, such as greater respite services, for vulnerable young carers.
During term time there are more services available, such as the Young Carers in Schools programme provided by the Carers Trust. But this doesn’t happen during the holidays. “If local councils don’t step in, this can mean young carers need to do more caring over the summer,” said chief executive Giles Meyer.
Carol Iddon, Action for Children’s managing director of children’s services, said: “The summer holidays can be heart-breaking for young carers who are often isolated and trapped at home, while their friends are having fun in the sunshine, playing sports or enjoying adventures abroad.”
Young carers told HuffPost UK that other people can help out young carers in small ways. Dania, eight, said helping with everyday tasks makes a difference.
“What has been a big help to us is our neighbour who offers to take me to school or pick me up if mum is too tired,” she said.
While Becky, 16, said: “The best thing strangers and friends can do is to recognise and acknowledge there is a constant weight you are carrying that they cannot possibly comprehend.”