MORE than 6,000 children across the region - some as young as five - are providing unpaid care for a family member, research has revealed.

Leading charities believe the 5,154 carers under 16-years-old identified in the North East and a further 1,107 in North Yorkshire are just the tip of the iceberg.

Last night County Durham based charity Family Action called on the public to keep an eye open for youngsters in a caring role and offer them support.

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Allison Hicks, project manager, said: “The greatest this we can all do is for communities to come together, whatever role you undertake be aware.

“If you recognise a young person who has a caring responsibility, who may not even realise it themselves, try to open up conversation then see what support you can offer.

“The first thing young people say they want is someone to listen and acknowledge that life can be difficult, other times they may need greater support.”

The figures have been highlighted by The Children’s Society, Carers Trust and Young Carers Focus to show the extent of young people looking after parents, siblings and family members across the country.

They want to shed light on how the burden of a caring role can impact on educational attainment and mean they miss out on their childhoods.

Analysis shows young carers often lag behind in the classroom with around one in 20 missing school because of the amount of support they have to provide at home and consequently their GCSE grades suffer.

And a quarter have experienced bullying because of their caring role.

The three charities have a joint initiative, The Young Carers in Schools Programme, which offers education staff resources and training to ensure young carers get vital support.

Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said: “An alarming amount of young carers in your area are having their lives turned upside down, juggling school work and looking after their loved ones."

Local authorities across the North told The Northern Echo they work closely with health and social organisations and schools to identify and support young carers and reduce the need for families to rely on them.

Mrs Hicks said it is important to put support in place early.

“There are over 1,000 young carers aged nought to 15 known to us in County Durham and 150,000 under 24.

“It is during those years young people make important life choices about university, jobs, leaving home, relationships and it can really help to have someone to talk to.”