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The lifestyle of being a carer is often a lonely one and for young carers any isolation can be tough to cope with. In honour of Young Carers Action Day 2022, here’s our guide on how to spot, support and stand with the young carers in your communities.
What is a Young Carer?
Young carers are children and young people under 18 years old who provide unpaid care to a family member who is disabled, physically or mentally ill, or misuses substances.
In the U.K, there are over 800,000 young carers aged between five and 17 years old.
In Northern Ireland, a young carer is defined as someone under the age of 23 years old who provides care for a relative who is sick or disabled.
What Does a Young Carer Do?
Alongside the ‘normal’ day-to-day activities of a young person, like going to school, homework, making and maintaining friendships and taking care of themselves, a young carer may also: cook three meals a day for everyone in the home, do all the dishes, the laundry, vacuum, clean the bathroom and go food shopping. For the person they are caring for, they might help them shower, wash their hair and get dressed. They may provide intimate care such as help using the toilet or lift and move them from room to room or bed to chair. They could help them access and enjoy activities like going for a walk, going out for coffee or meeting a friend.
Isolation and Being a Young Carer
Being an unpaid carer for a family member or relative can be a stressful and lonely position for anyone to be in. For a young person who is going through the emotional, mental, and physical changes that come with growing up, it is not surprising that many feel overwhelmed, stressed and suffer from anxiety or other mental health problems.
Being a young carer can be socially isolating. Due to the extra time constraints associated with providing care, there could be limitations on how much socialising they are able to participate in. Even if the young person has free time, they may be too physically or emotionally tired.
The isolation is not just about being unable to take part in activities with peers. Missing school, getting behind in schoolwork and/or getting ‘in trouble’ at school can all lead to young people feeling ostracised from the rest of their classmates.
27% of young carers between the ages of 11-15 miss school, miss an average of 48 days a year.
It’s unfortunately still true that being in any way different can make a young person a target for bullying. A young carer who has a different routine from others, has different priorities and may even act more ‘grown-up’ than their peers could be a potential target for bullying. If a young carer is really struggling, there may also be aspects about their appearance that make them stand out, such as looking tired or personal hygiene issues.
Not every young person who is a carer will be struggling. Many will have support from family, friends or the relevant social services.
Supporting A Young Carer
You can help by looking out for signs that a pupil or young person you know could be caring for someone and struggling to cope, such as:
Difficulty paying attention and a lack of motivation
A change in behaviour or hygiene
Low attendance or regular lateness to school
Parents or carers not attending parents evening
Frequently missing social events
Many young carers don’t even realise that they are a carer and so don’t know to reach out for help and support. In fact, 39% of young carers said that nobody in their school was even aware of their caring role.
Every young carer’s role as a care provider will be different and consist of different tasks and responsibilities. The level of support they already receive, the level of care they give and how much their own needs are already being met are just a few of the factors that will influence how much, and in what form they need support from others. However, here’s just some of the ways in which you can offer your support to a young carer:
Talk, ask and listen! Begin a conversation when you have plenty of time and won’t be interrupted. Ask open questions, such as ‘how is everything at home?’, rather than, ‘is everything at home okay?’. Allow lots of time for them to answer and avoid prompting or finishing their sentences.
Work around their schedule and be flexible with expectations. For teachers, let them know you’re prepared to be understanding when it comes to deadlines.
Ask if they would like help accessing extra support or signposting to government bodies, charity organisations or local peer support groups.
There are many organisations throughout the UK which provide support for young carers. These services provide them with the chance to unwind and meet others in a similar position. They can learn more about the illness they’re caring for, and, critically, what other support is available for both them and their loved ones.