Do You Care?: The Struggle of Young Carers

Young carers experience challenges we would never expect young people to face.

The average age of a young carer is 12. What kind of life were you living when you were 12? Most people, when they think back to their childhood and adolescence, think of carefree, happy times, where they had a chance to begin to discover what the world has to offer. However, life for young carers across the country is often vastly different, and much harder. A young carer is a child or young person up to the age of 18 who cares for a family member. The care needed ranges for those with a family member who has a physical disability, mental health illness, substance addictions, and terminal, life limiting or life threatening illnesses. They often offer both practical and emotional care. This means that young carers often have to grow up much quicker than others their age, as they have to offer the care ordinarily provided by an adult. As a result they miss out on much of the fun of childhood. Having to look after a family member is an incredibly time-consuming and challenging job in itself, let alone when you’re juggling homework, extracurricular activities, friendships and the personal development important for young people to have. Durham Team v are running a campaign entitled ‘Do You Care?’ to raise awareness for the issues young carers face, as it is a widespread problem throughout the country. Latest census figures suggest that there are currently 166,363 young carers in England, but there are likely to be many more who have fallen under the official radar.

Young carers can experience both physical and emotional problems due to the care they provide, and also may struggle with keeping up with schoolwork. They often don’t think about the prospect of their own futures, as their time, energy and thoughts are focused on their caring role. Around one in twenty young carers miss school because of their responsibilities, and they have significantly lower attainment at GCSE level than those who do not have a caring role. They are also more likely than the national average to be not in education, employment or training between the ages of 16 and 19.

However, help is at hand. Family Action, England’s leading family charity, are helping to work with young carers. They support over 45,000 families every year, and one of the services they offer in the Country Durham community is The Bridge Young Carers Service, dedicated to helping young carers. Helen Dent, the Family Action Chief Executive, highlights the problems young carers may face: “Some children and young people are carrying the world on their shoulders for their families without this ever being recognised.” She sees that “they have the same right as others to try to fulfil their potential” and this is the aim of the project itself. The support offered within this project includes advocacy, support for any educational problems the young carer may have, and simply being there for the carer in question, providing them with information on things like illness and disability, advice on accessing services, and 1-on-1 support whenever they need it. Through this, the project hopes to give young carers the improved opportunities they need for their own future, giving them back the chance to enjoy their time as a young person and achieve their goals. They focus on working within families, supporting the family unit as a whole to strengthen relationships within the family of the young carer. They also offer a young carers forum, where the young carer can share their views and talk to other young carers about what they may be facing. It is vital that young carers do not feel alone or abandoned whilst caring for a family member, and this platform provides the much-needed opportunity to simply have people talk, listen and share opinions. The service also aims to help young carers reduce the role they have in caring, or even stop it altogether, with support from outside help. If you want more information on The Bridge, go to www.family-action.org.uk.

So, how can you help? In Durham, you can get involved in the SCA’s Young Carers group project. This aims to provide young carers with some much-needed respite, time to have fun and talk about any issues they may be having. Activities range depending on the age of the young carer group in question; one week the project may be doing painting and sticking with youngsters, and the next it may involve discussions with young teen carers about any problems they may be facing. The project is an incredibly rewarding one to be involved in, and makes a vast difference to the young carers they help. It is essential that they have the opportunity to get away from the daily life of caring for their family member, and this project allows them to do just that. The project runs on Thursdays, 4–6pm, and transport around Durham is provided. If you want to get involved, contact Olivia at youngcarers.sca@durham.ac.uk.

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