In order to gain a better understanding of what it’s like to be young carer, we invited a young person to comment on her first-hand experiences and recommendations. Under the Children and Families Act 2014, a young carer is defined as:-
A person under 18 who provides, or intends to provide, care for another person. The concept of ‘care’ includes practical or emotional support, and ‘another person’ means anyone within the same family, be they adult or child’.
Roughly two weeks ago- a year after my dad passed away- I discovered that I was a young carer who had cared for my dad for 5 years. At the time I had no idea.
When my mum passed away, I began helping my family with daily household tasks such as making dinner, hoovering, washing and cleaning, and looking after my younger brother. My dad left for work early in the morning and came home late at night. I remember that I felt so much pressure to have the dinner cooked and the kitchen tidy for when he came home. I was about 15 years old at the time.
At the same time as doing physical tasks, I would try and offer my brother additional support to deal with his emotions – he sometimes hated me for always wanting to talk to him about mum and our situation but I process my emotions by talking.
After two years of being a young carer, it began to feel like normal. I never once questioned it or thought that it was something that I should not be doing. Yet even though I was keeping the house clean and tidy, my bedroom (my personal space) was a right state. It was totally disgusting and I didn’t know why.
My daily routine consisted of: waking up ten minutes before I had to leave the house to go to school, being at school, collecting my brother from school, doing the tasks my dad had asked me to do whilst he was at work and then making us all dinner every other day.
Without even realising, I was a young carer.
I would spend about an hour a day on daily household tasks. They were ‘my tasks’. I remember finding doing all the different tasks quite difficult. I sometimes ended up not doing my homework. I actually ended up on homework report at school. I didn’t really have a social life. I also had a severe lack of sleep every night. I was always so distracted, whether it was in school or at home, so I’d never be fully focused on what I was meant to be doing at the time.
However, when my dad began to get more ill, I started to do more to try to help him. My dad deteriorated quickly in 2018, when I was 14 nearly 15, which was frightening for me to witness. For example, he was unable to carry his own cup of tea. He would occasionally throw up in the sink and attempt to clean it himself, which didn’t work. The hardest thing was that he did not want to accept the fact that he was sick and beginning to become weak so he would try to do things for himself, but he simply could not. I remember feeling helpless – which was extremely hard.
I felt a huge responsibility – like I had to do things, or else. I realise now that I had a choice, but did not realise it at the time.
Looking back, my brother and I were so lucky to have the help from my dad’s partner for 2 years. She would come to our house most days (stay overnight sometimes) and would help us with the washing and cleaning of our house. She made my dad so happy which was a great emotional support to him. Of course, when she went home to her daughter, I took on the main carer role again, so it felt like I was only providing half the help that I had been giving previously.
On most days I would still cook our tea and our lunch and do the odd bit of tidying (yes – still forgetting about having to tidy my own bedroom). It was so much better having the help of my family to look after him, like I did.
I am amazingly proud of the effort I put in to helping my dad, but it is not something that every child should feel that they must do.
Children are already under so much pressure from having their GCSEs and attending school that it is so important to ensure that they have the time to socialise with their friends and generally care for themselves. I think more support should be offered to children who take on the role of being a young carer because it is difficult, and it is heart breaking. Friends often do not understand the responsibilities you have being a carer and question why you have less time than them to socialise.
Nowadays, I also understand the importance of making other people aware of what a young carer is. I was a young carer for about four years, and I had no clue what one was until just two weeks ago, when I was asked to write this blog about my experiences. I think it is an issue that schools should learn about and teach children about.
In the UK, there are estimated to be around 700,000 young carers according to the BBC. This number is significantly high and there needs to be an increase in the amount of support for these children. Young carers need to know that there is support available for them.
Only those who are or have been a young carer can understand the challenge and responsibility that is placed on them. To be one shows signs of bravery and courage. I hope that some day there are more charities and types of support that can be offered to those who have had the same experiences as I have.
Looking back, I would have benefited from discussing my feelings about caring for my dad with my friends, extended family and/or teachers at school. It may have helped with the pressure and stress at the time.
These days, I am proud of myself and my journey so far. I am still processing my feelings, but It has been an amazing experience to reflect on everything I have gone through. I am no longer a young carer, but I know that will always be dedicated to my family, especially my brother.
Safe-guarding.co is very grateful to this young person for bravely sharing experiences and recommendations for this blog.
Young carers undertake a wide range of caring roles and responsibilities in the family home including providing emotional support and personal care, undertaking housework and budgeting. The duty on local authorities to identify and assess the support needs of young carers applies regardless of the type of support they are providing.
Local authorities are expected to take ‘reasonable steps’ to identify children in their area who are young carers. The local authority must carry out an assessment if it appears that the young carer may have needs for support and, if so, should identify what those needs are.
Adopting a whole family approach is recommended as the best way to identify young people who are caring for a family member. This means that whenever an adult is receiving social care or support, any assessments undertaken should always include discussions about children in the household to identify if they have caring responsibilities and may, therefore, require support as a young carer. Providing the right care to adult family members at the right time is vital, and helps to ensure that children do not take on inappropriate caring tasks. The need for children to provide care is increased when services to ill or disabled adults (or other family members) are inadequate, inappropriate or missing and when family-based interventions are not provided.
Useful Resources for Young Carers:
If you’re a young carer, friends and relatives are often the first people to turn to for help. You may find it helpful to talk to a teacher about what you do at home so that they can understand what is happening and give you more help. The school could also put you in touch with your local young carers service, or get a young carers worker to talk to you. If you’re worried about your health, or the health of the person you care for, speak to a doctor or GP, this may include a school nurse or school counsellor.
For more information on how to support schools/ colleges and resources to develop staff knowledge of safeguarding in learning environments, please contact us.
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