Having worked with young carers and their families for a long time we get asked the same questions..….Who are these children? Why are they ‘allowed’ to care?!
Young carers are all around us, hidden in plain sight. Some of our young carers are as young as 5 years old. People’s reactions tend to be that of pity or ‘what a shame for them’ but what these children need is for us to show pride not pity, support not sadness.
As a parent, no one thinks that their child will end up providing care for them or a sibling, certainly not during childhood. We all know that life has twists and turns, some more challenging than others. For the families that we work with those challenges are illness, disability, mental ill health or substance misuse. These challenges can hit any of us at any time leaving choices limited and life upside down. A car accident, a stroke, cancer, mental health diagnosis, a child born with complex needs or life limiting illness….and so life becomes very different.
The children that we work with have their fair share of responsibilities and worries but alongside that is their determination and resilience in equal measure. For many of them, they are proud of what they do and they look after their parent, sibling, grandparent, out of love. They are quiet warriors often holding together their family, but ask many of them and they don’t wish for their life to be all that different, only that the person they look after gets better and that people would understand.
To the outside world a young carer may be that child who is always late for school, the one who often doesn’t complete their homework, who doesn’t play outside or go to their classmates birthday parties. They are the ones who are tired, whose parents don’t make it to parent’s evening or to watch the school play. The quiet child who doesn’t get too involved with friendships or stay late for the music club or netball practice. Young carers often see life very differently from their peers…the things that their friends get worked up about – having the right trainers, listening to the right music, who’s going out with who – this is trivia when you are up all night with your poorly mum, working out if there is enough money to get the food shopping in or worrying about picking prescriptions up after school.
There are some schools who tell us that they ‘don’t have any young carers’ or ‘we don’t have those kinds of families’…..then you are not looking hard enough or asking the right questions. There is no ‘kind of family’, being a carer can affect any of us at any time of life. Research in 2018 by the BBC and Sussex University reported that 1 in 5 secondary school children have caring responsibilities….we’ll just let that sink in!
So as these children carry their worries to school and remain under the radar, what can we do to help? Many children don’t realise that they are a carer, it’s just what they do, it’s their ‘everyday’ and so the question, 'are you a young carer' is not the right one. Start the conversation, recognise that they are doing something wonderful and that there is help for them to carry on, if that is what they want to do, but also if they don’t want to be a carer, that is ok too and there are options out there for them.
Our support is here for families to explore their options together. We can provide time for children to be away from home, be with other children and young people who understand, explore, play and be themselves. We can look at ways of reducing or stopping a child’s caring role by putting other support in place for families. The most important part of our support however, is to listen to what the child wants and needs in order for them to be the best that they can be, to be happy and in charge of the life that they want to lead. These children are astounding, full of life, knowledge and strength, their skills are remarkable and their spirits fierce! Let’s find them, guide them and reinforce their power for they are the front runners of the next generation.