Dozens of young carers could miss out on their one annual weekend away this summer as well as vital one-to-one support, as a charity is running desperately short of funds. Ironically, at the same time, Cambridgeshire County Council is spending money on tr

IN THE SWIM: Young carers aged eight to 13 with their swimming certificates after a course at Easter.

Dozens of young carers could miss out on their one annual weekend away this summer as well as vital one-to-one support, as a charity is running desperately short of funds. Ironically, at the same time, Cambridgeshire County Council is spending money on training social workers to spot young carers and refer them to the project. What's going on?

ANGELA SINGER finds out more.

OFFICIALLY, there are 280 young carers in Huntingdonshire.

However, there could easily be more than this: more children who dedicate large amounts of their time to looking after a parent or sibling. More youngsters who have difficulties finding time to get to school, let alone have any fun or join in the activities other children do.

More young people who help save the state money because of the free care they provide out of love.

Now these children are this summer also facing losing one of their vital avenues of support.

West Anglia Crossroads, a charity that helps young carers, says it will close in June, ahead of the summer holidays, because of a lack of funds.

The summer is usually its busiest time, but already the lack of money has meant one-to-one support for child carers has been axed, and trips away and activities for the summer have been cancelled.

The scheme has been the victim of its own success, says the manager of the Young Carer's Project, Lucy Francklin.

"The thought of closing before the summer holidays because we cannot raise £10,000 to see us through is so disappointing, especially in the holidays when many young carers are most vulnerable.

"School will be closed and we are the only other people there for them."

Cambridgeshire County Council happily concedes that the charity is doing a good job and that there are more children who desperately need it.

But the council says it cannot afford to pay more than the £21,000 a year it now gives the charity, which costs £80,000 a year to run.

Ironically, the council is currently spending time and money on training social workers to spot young carers and refer them to West Anglia Crossroads.

But it says it has no more money to give the project.

Nationally, last week, there was a call for more support for young carers after a Milton Keynes girl, who cared for her seriously ill mother, died three days after her 13th birthday.

An inquest heard how Deanne Asamoah took an overdose of her mother's morphine, sparking calls for an inquiry into the growing numbers of child carers in Britain.

A Private Members Bill - The Carers (Identification and Support Bill) - has also been launched by Barbara Keeley, Labour MP for Worsley. If it becomes law, schools and local authorities will have to set up a clearly defined policy to support child carers.

West Anglia Crossroads has been filling in a gap for young carers for six years. It gives on-going support to more than 220 young carers and says 82 of them care for a parent with mental health problems, while others care for parents who are drug addicts.

More and more young people are being referred to the scheme. Last year, 116 young carers were referred, and this year, there have already been 80 referrals in the first four months.

Until now, West Anglia Crossroads has been mostly funded by three-year grants from the Big Lottery. However, you cannot apply more than twice to the same part of the Lottery.

Another bid is in with a different part of the Lottery (called Reaching the Community) which would provide £306,330 over three years, but the decision will not be made until August and the money will not be available until September.

The last of the Lottery money ran out in March. The charity is appealing desperately for £10,000 to bridge the gap between now and then.

Meanwhile, the charity has been given £47,400 to be spent over three years by The Huntingdon Freemen's Charity.

Although this money is available for the summer, it can be spent on only Huntingdon children - not those in other parts of Huntingdonshire.

This means the charity will be limited to just 30 children this summer - another 250 (it usually supports 280 children) will have to wait until further funding is in place.

The summer trips - there are usually two - will be confined to just one and places will be limited to just 15 young people, a quarter of the number who would normally attend.

The project has three staff (two of them part-time) whose jobs are at risk.

Dr Helen Brown, the project's chief executive, said: "We have been trying to raise funds for 18 months and we have been in negotiation with Cambridgeshire County Council for over a year, but we have had to tell staff that they must reapply for their jobs.

"We managed to keep going over Easter and we had some really successful life skills classes where we taught young carers to swim."

She added: "We have had tremendous support from professionals in health, mental health and social care, as well as from the young carers and their families.

"Everyone agrees that we provide a very valuable service. Longer term, we believe funding should be available but we have no funds to employ our talented and committed team beyond June."

Niki Clemo, director of children's services for CCC said: "We are extremely concerned to hear about the withdrawal of Lottery funding for this excellent and highly valued service.

"We want to find a way to resolve this crisis and we are looking at where we are spending our money because we do not want to lose such an essential service."

INFORMATION: To find more about the project visit www.westangliacrossroads.org.uk where there are also details about how to make a donation.