Up to a quarter of 17-year-olds provide regular care to siblings, parents or grandparents - ESRI

Young carers more likely to get poorer Leaving Cert grades, study finds

Teenagers with caring duties in the home are more likely to receiver poorer Leaving Cert grades and not go on to higher education, according to new research.

A study from the Economic and Social Research Institute estimates that as many as a quarter of 17-years-old provide regular care to younger brothers, sisters, parents or grandparents.

It found that these young people tend to receive lower points in the State exams compared with others their own age, even taking into account their prior academic track record, and especially if they are caring for more than one family member.

They are also less likely to progress to higher education and, when they do so, are more limited in their choices by often having to live at home.


The study draws on data from more than 4,000 young people who took part in the Growing Up in Ireland study and explores the implications of caregiving on young people’s wellbeing, family relationships and educational outcomes.

Dr Emer Smyth, a co-author of the report, said the findings highlight the need to provide supports for this group of young people.

“Home school community liaison co-ordinators and provision through the School Completion Programme could help young carers access the learning and socio-emotional supports they need,” she said. “Higher education access processes should also recognise young carers as a group.”

The report adopts a broad definition of care, including regular care provided to parents, grandparents, siblings and others, not just those with an illness or disability.

In most cases, young people report that caregiving does not take very much of their time, with just 13 per cent saying it takes up a lot or quite a lot of their time. Those looking after parents or grandparents spend more time on caregiving.

Young caregivers are from all social and family backgrounds, but are more likely to have younger siblings in the family or be from migrant families.

Among 17-year-olds, those from more affluent families are less likely to be caregivers. Income, however, did not alter the likelihood of being a caregiver at the age of 20.

In contrast to adults, boys and girls are just as likely to be providing care at age 17, while at the age 20 young men are more likely to provide care, particularly to younger siblings and parents.

The study found little evidence of a strong link between caregiving and poor physical or mental health. However, more intensive care involvement was related to higher rates of obesity and poorer self-reported health.

Having a mother with depression was linked to poorer wellbeing among young adults, regardless of whether they reported providing care to them or not.

Caring for siblings or parents was associated with more positive relationships with family members.

However, fighting between mothers and young adults appeared to be related to caring for younger siblings.

Dr Helen Russell, a co-author of the report, said informal caregiving is an essential element of human society but is often invisible.

“This is especially true for care provided by young people. This study highlights the important role that care provided by young people for their siblings, grandparents and others plays in family lives,” she said.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent