A Hertfordshire politician said the county council is “badly failing” young carers, and needed to work harder at identifying them.

A report into the number of young people who care for one or more of their parents was heard at Hertfordshire County Council’s children’s services cabinet panel on Tuesday.

It revealed that there could be as many as 9,000 young carers in the county, with 727 known by the council. Of these, 159 were referred to receive additional support.

County Councillor Mark Watkin, opposition spokesperson for children's services, said the county council is was “badly failing children and young people who are sacrificing their lives for the needs of their family.”

He added: “The trouble is, we are not getting close enough to these young people because we’re too set in our ways about how we address them.

“We can’t expect them to come forward to us, there is a responsibility for the county council to go out and find them and we have not been nearly creative enough.

“The county needs to recognise they are a significant support and save the state millions of pounds, if they didn’t quietly do what they do we would have people knocking on our door for support.

“The tragedy is so many young people just do it and sacrifice their lives for their parents

“Many of these children are in families receiving benefits, or are looking for work, having housing problems or facing other challenging circumstances, but it has done nothing to make staff and management in these agencies aware of these children's plight and what can be done to help them.

“It is inexcusable."

The number of carers referred to the county council through schools, mental health services, Youth Connexions and other services has dropped from 15 in April 2013 to three in December 2013.

Case studies in the county’s report showed how children as young as eight and eleven are currently responsible for cleaning, cooking, and providing personal care for their parents.

Richard Roberts, executive member for children’s services, said the 159 carers currently receiving additional support had been referred to the council.

He added: “These are cases where a young person is looking after a parent who might have a drink or drug problem, they are more vulnerable and they need some additional support.

“We can’t absolutely know how many young carers are out there, but we have an increasing number of young carers we are in contact with.

“Of those, only a small, and decreasing number are being referred through to further support.

“Most of our young carers are being supported. We have some of the best youth services in the county.”