17/05/2013 09:22 BST | Updated 16/07/2013 06:12 BST

The Number of Young Carers in England Overall Rises by a Fifth

Today we found out that for many thousands of children in England, everyday life isn't just a matter of going to school and playing with friends, but involves providing regular care for an ill or disabled parent, grandparent or sibling.

Latest Census figures put the number of young carers in England at 166,000. This is up by a fifth from when the last Census was conducted a decade ago.

Often these children are providing practical and emotional care and support for more than one person in their life, and nearly 15,000 children provide more than 50 hours care a week.

Even more startling is the rise over the last 10 years in the number of five to seven year old young carers by around 80 per cent. It is shocking to think that nearly 10,000 children aged 5 to 9 years old are providing care to a relative.

Yet The Children's Society believes this is just the tip of the iceberg, that huge swathes of children remain hidden from the view of the very authorities there to support them.

We work with young carers across the country, and most of them are really proud that they are able to help their family. But unsurprisingly, being a young carer can have a significant long term impact on children.

Young carers are more likely to have a long-standing illness or disability, gain fewer qualifications or not be in education, training or employment when they turn 16.

So what can be done about it? There are always likely to be young people caring for relatives (and many are proud of what they do), but what is needed is for these children to get appropriate support and help, so they don't miss out on their childhoods.

It's simply not fair if these children are missing out on school, friendships and gaining fewer qualifications and job opportunities just because they are providing care to their family.

We need to make sure that it is much easier to identify young carers, asses their needs and provide appropriate help. This might sound simple, but we know that for many of the children we work with this simply isn't happening.

The Care Bill and Children and Families Bill are going through Parliament. This gives us an immediate and great way of removing barriers to support and to make sure that children are prevented from taking on inappropriate caring.

The Children's Society, alongside many other charities it works through the Young Carers in Focus (YCiF) programme, believes it is crucial we do not lose this once-in-a-generation opportunity. In ten years' time, when the next Census is released, we want to see a very different picture for children and teenagers caring for their loved ones.