Young carers in Somerset have said they no longer have the support they need.
Somerset County Council has made changes to the service, keeping the same level of funding and promising to expand and improve it. But families have told ITV News the staff they trusted have gone and hardly any events have been organised to give young carers respite during the summer holiday.
16 year-old Holly Baker, from Bridgwater, helps her parents look after her older brother Owen, who has autism, and younger brother Toby, who has epilepsy and needs constant supervision.
Over the years she’s relied on Somerset’s young carers service for support - but she’s unhappy about how it’s changed. She said:
It’s not the same. I want to be able to talk to someone about what goes on at home. I want to be able to go out and have fun times with the group. There’s nothing planned this summer. So if we wanted to go out for a day trip with the rest of the young carers we can’t because they haven’t planned anything for us.
Holly’s father, Glen Baker, said:
Saying they’re giving you a better service - well, to be quite blunt, it’s not a better service. They’ve actually taken away a brilliant service.
The changes to the service came about after sweeping cuts announced in the autumn of 2018. It quickly paused that decision, promising to come up with a new way of supporting young carers.
In the Spring of 2019, the council announced it would maintain the level of funding to the service but would get community groups and charities to run it in order to allow them to tap into extra funding.
It also aimed to identify more of the estimated 1,750 young carers in Somerset, many of whom receive no support.
However, the council staff young carers had existing, strong relationships and trust with have gone and during the long summer holiday, when time away from their responsibilities at home is much-needed, very few activities have been organised for them.
Nicky Griffin, a former young carers project worker who left Somerset County Council in the autumn of 2018, is not surprised families are upset. She said:
Genuinely I don’t really think there was anything wrong with the old model. We had a good programme of activities, the young people wanted to come, they wanted to be part of it and that meant that we could support them and help keep them safe.
Bassie Wakefield lives in Frome and helps his sister care for his mother. He says he’s stopped attending his local group because the staff he knew and trusted have left. He said:
I just didn’t want to go through the whole process of saying everything again. You could call them at any time and they’d answer and if they didn’t answer they’d just get back to you within five minutes, so that was good. But now they don’t reply to you - they just tell you when it is and what time they’ll be there.
Somerset County Council has promised that the service will be a better one for families and it is confident that it will be able to reach more young carers, many of whom aren’t currently being supported.
The leader of the council, David Fothergill, has also promised to listen to the young carers who have voiced concerns. He said:
What they’ve said does concern me and we’ll be looking at the individual cases, but I would stress that this is not an area where we’ve taken savings. What we’ve done is to look at how we can re-provision the service so that we reach more people. It’s really important that we reach as many of those seventeen hundred people as possible, many of whom will be below the radar, providing services to their parents and guardians, and that’s what this has really been about.
Hundreds of young people provide care for parents and siblings and they are some of the most vulnerable people in the county.
Somerset County Council has, however, pledged to make sure they have the help they need and believes the service will improve, particularly from September when its contract with the YMCA, who will run it, properly starts.
The true test will be down the line - seeing whether it does end up reaching more of those 1,750 young carers across Somerset, many of whom are completely under the radar.