Under new government regulations, trained and supervised 16–18 year olds will be allowed to provide personal care.
The Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI) and the Department of Health (DH) have jointly developed a more flexible approach to care provision.
The DH's National Minimum Standards (NMS) previously stated that staff providing personal care to service users must be aged 18. The new arrangements will therefore bring more young people into the care industry.
The new guidelines also state that care homes must fulfill appropriate regulations and the person receiving care must have their choices respected as far as possible regarding who performs the tasks for them.
Care workers under 18 who want to deliver personal care must have completed, or be undertaking, the Apprenticeship in Health and Social Care and have proven their competence to carry out tasks.
Paragon Skills for Industry, a local apprenticeship provider, has welcomed the announcement. Its care programmes' director, Carolyn Maple, said: "This is a new and exciting opportunity for employers in the care sector to take on keen young people who are looking to start a career in health and social care.
"Previously, opportunities for 16–17 year olds were limited because of the regulations that govern care homes.
"Now we are anticipating an increase in the number of young people who approach us for a career in this rewarding and growing sector. Employers need to take advantage of this new source of potential employees."