I have examined "Caring Before Their Time? Research and Policy Perspectives on Young Carers" by Barnardos and The Children's Research Centre, which was published in September 2004. I was particularly struck by the fact that, of the estimated 3,000 young carers who are providing some care, there are over 300 carers between the ages of 15 and 17 years of age who are providing full-time care. It is clear that this group needs appropriate supports.
I recognise that special help, advice and support is essential for young carers who are often caring for a parent and, in particular, that services must be put in place to support the household and to ensure that young carers remain at school. The Barnardos report recommends that policy relating to young carers should be a matter for the Department of Health and Children with services being delivered by the Health Service Executive. These include the services of home helps, public health nurses and home care packages generally. The report considers that further research should be undertaken on numbers of young carers, the supports available to them, their needs and the impact of their caring role on their education and general development.
I am pleased that the national partnership agreement "Towards 2016" commits the Government to undertaking a study (with the involvement of relevant Departments) of the extent to which children undertake inappropriate care roles in order to establish the extent and degree to which this issue arises and the levels of impact it has on the lives of children concerned. Based on the outcome of this study and an analysis of the issues identified, a programme of in-home supports will be developed to alleviate specific problem areas identified for children.
The report of the Long-Term Care working group is being considered by the Government. This Group was established by the Minister for Health and Children and myself in January 2005 to identify the policy options for a financially sustainable system of long-term care. It comprises senior officials from the Departments of Finance, Health and Children and my own Department. My officials have brought the issue of young carers to the attention of the working group.
Supports for carers from my own Department include the respite care grant and the carers's allowance. The respite care grant, which is an annual payment for carers who look after certain people in need of full-time care and attention, is payable from age 16. The payment is made regardless of the carer's means but it is subject to certain qualifying conditions. The grant from will increase from €1,200 to €1,500 per year from June 2007. Carer's allowance, which provides income support to people who are providing certain older people or people with a disability with full time care and attention and whose incomes fall below a certain limit, is payable from age 18.
I am always prepared to consider changes to existing arrangements where these are for the benefit of recipients and financially sustainable within the resources available to me. I will continue to strive to bring forward proposals that recognise the valued and valuable contribution of all carers in a tangible way.