Written by Owen Walker, Director of Research and Development
At Little Dreamers we have seen first-hand the effects that caring can have on young people’s grades. We know the struggles ourselves, and have seen it in friends as well as those we work with. But now we’ve got the cold hard numbers to back it up. An amazing report has recently been released by the Australian Institute of Families which takes a good hard look at young carers. The study aims to answer some important questions, one of which is “Does caring limit young peoples’ academic achievement?”
The survey consisted of 3,341 14-15-year-olds, and found a whopping 39% claimed to provide some form of care. This is primarily a function of the broad definition of “care” used in this survey which includes people that don’t live together. This number reduces drastically when only considering those that provide care to someone they live with; 6% with core activities, and 3% with only non-core activities. These numbers are more consistent with other findings. Another interesting finding is that 20% of participants stated they provide care for more than one person, which equates to roughly half of those that provide care.
So to answer our question, we need to investigate some statistics.
Source: Warren, D. and Edwards, B. (2017). Young Carers. Australian Institute of Family Studies.
For the statistically uninitiated, this table can be daunting. To explain it simply, the top row provides the average (mean) score for students who do not provide care. Each row below provides the average score for specific divisions of students who do provide care. The averages are compared to the top row, but even if the numbers are different, they are only statistically significantly different (reliably different) if they have an asterisk next to them. The more asterisks, the better!
If there’s no asterisk, it doesn’t mean the difference is wrong, it just means that this particular sample can’t prove that the difference wasn’t just due to chance. The more asterisks, the less likely that the difference was just luck.
Something that will come as no surprise to anybody experienced in caring is the row top row for carers. Three asterisks all across the board. What this tells us is that those that care perform more poorly in reading and numeracy than those that don’t. And the difference is quite large.
To put those differences into perspective, 26 points is about one full year of schooling. So if you compare girls’ scores who help a household member with core activities, (reading = 585.8, numeracy = 572.8), there is a deficit of 38 points in reading and 37.5 for numeracy. What those numbers mean is that girls in this category perform, on average, one and a half years behind someone without a caring role.
We can all agree that these numbers, whilst expected for some, are scary.
But what can we do to help?
Little Dreamers has been working hard to develop The Dream Big Accreditation Program. The program will work closely with schools to create a supportive framework for young carers to feel comfortable coming forward, seeking help, but also owning their identity. These numbers show a disadvantaged subset of society, but when we look at the young carers we support we see past that and see a courageous and strong bunch of people. Our Program simultaneously creates the awareness and support that young carers need to bridge the academic gap, as well as instilling in them a strong sense of pride.
For more information about the program, check out our website, shoot us an e-mail, or give us a call.