Who cares about data?

02 August 2018

Dr Oonagh Robison discusses the results from three new analyses of young carer data from the NHS GGC schools survey, and explores the importance of using local data to address inequality.

Results from the 2014 NHS school survey of Glasgow school pupils highlighted that one in eight were carers. Our analysis of the survey data, published last year, enabled us to have a closer look and dig a little deeper into the lives of young carers living in Glasgow.

By using a general school survey (i.e. not one focused just on carers) we were able to compare outcomes between carers and non-carers. We found that young carers were less likely to think they would go on to further or higher education than non-carers. Carers were also more likely to report having emotional or behavioural problems than non-carers. Over half of carers said that caring made them feel good, and for a third of young carers, no one knew about their caring responsibilities.

In the last few months, three other local authorities in the west of Scotland – Renfrewshire, East Dunbartonshire and Inverclyde – have kindly provided us with their school survey data. This has allowed us to repeat the analysis for the different areas, and publish our findings in three new short reports: 

Download the Renfrewshire report

Download the East Dunbartonshire report

Download the Inverclyde report

In many ways, the new reports back up what we found in Glasgow. The number of young carers seems to be higher than was previously thought. In all of the areas, the effect of having a parent or family member in the household with a drug or alcohol problem, or a mental health issue was clear, especially in terms of the young person’s mental health and emotional and behavioural issues.

However, there were some differences in outcomes for young carers between the areas. Although the data can tell us what these differences in outcomes were, it can’t tell us why these differences exist. Growing up a young carer in, say, Milngavie will be a completely different experience to growing up a young carer in Greenock, and both will be different to being a young carer in Paisley. Although geographically relatively close, these places all have individual identities, school systems and services.

This is why local responses are important, and why it is crucial for local authorities to make use of data from their area. A response to problems like supporting young carers at a Scotland level is of course necessary, such as the recent Carers Act, but how it is delivered must be informed by local expertise and knowledge.

What these new reports have also shown is that no matter what the differences are between these young people, there are also similarities. Young carers tend to be from poorer families, and more likely to be in lone parent families. Being a carer is rarely the only issue that these young people have to deal with.

We know that young people from poorer backgrounds are already more likely to have a range of poorer outcomes than more well-off young people. And that’s before the added stresses of having a parent or carer with an illness or disability, or factoring in those who are providing care. This seems to suggest that support for these young people must come from a variety of sources.

When the first report came out, we at the GCPH along with colleagues at Glasgow HSCP and others from the NHS, local authorities, national government and third sector organisations held an event to discuss the report, the findings, and possible next steps.

To my mind, the clearest message that came out of this event was the need for people and services to work in a joined-up way to help those who need extra support. Bearing in mind that we were specifically talking about young carers, the list of agencies mentioned at the event were (deep breath): schools; education services (including careers guidance and further education) carer services; Glasgow’s youth council; the Scottish Youth Parliament; community planning partnerships; social work; primary care; hospital discharge teams; pharmacy services; addictions teams; mental health services; and other adult services. Phew.

If all of these agencies have access to clear local data about issues that affect the people that encounter them, they’re much more likely to be able to make informed decisions about how best to approach these issues and support people.

Analysing raw data to find out about local issues might not be everyone’s cup of tea, which is why there are resources that have already done the hard work, such as Understanding Glasgow, the new Glasgow children’s profiles, and the area profiles of the Scotland’s Census site.

Access to local data that highlights the difficulties that some people face is crucial for agencies and services to plan for the future. Even more importantly, it allows everyone to be on the same page, and can act as a basis for a co-ordinated response to taking action on inequalities and improving people’s lives.

 

Access the Young carers in Glasgow report

Download the Renfrewshire young carers report

Download the East Dunbartonshire young carers report

Download the Inverclyde young carers report

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About the author

Dr Oonagh Robison Public Health Research Specialist

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Oonagh worked within the 'action on inequality across the life course' programme. She also led on work looking at the health, wellbeing and future expectations of young carers in Glasgow.

Prior to joining GCPH, she undertook a PhD at the MRC CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, exploring whether housing policy can lead to improved school and pupil outcomes in Glasgow. 

Oonagh has since left the GCPH and is continuing her research work at the Scottish Government.

Read all articles by Dr Oonagh Robison

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