Posted: 29 February 2016

Being a young carer made me who I am today

Paul Al-Naqib, Independent Advocate from The Children’s Society, Black Country shares his experience of being a young carer, the care system and how it shaped his future.

I’ve worked with looked after children in residential care, special schools and children’s rights since 1997. 

Earlier this month I went to a young carer’s event, Hidden in The Workspace Wolverhampton. The young people were incredibly brave in sharing their stories in front of unfamiliar adults including a 13 year old who bravely talked of helping her mother who is recovering from alcoholism – I found it touching, as my mum also had alcoholism. I was happy to share my experience as a professional adult who was also once a young carer.

Sharing my experiences

In my talk at the event I identified myself as a care leaver who ended up looked after as a consequence of my caring responsibilities towards my Grandfather (hereafter Sammy). I explained that in my opinion and with the gift of hindsight, my caring responsibilities, though burdensome and unfair as a child, now provided a massive benefit in my life as a worker, a father and person in general.

My mother gave me up when I was three weeks old. I never had any relationship with my parents and lived with my grandparents, aunts and uncles and for most of my life.

At about 12 years old everything changed for me. I was living with my grandparents and out of the blue they got divorced. I loved Sammy and chose to remain with him and an uncle and his family who also lived in the house. My uncle moved out with his family very quickly as a result of an argument.

Becoming a carer

Sammy and I were ok together alone but he was then knocked off his cycle one night and suffered a series of strokes which left him paralysed down his right side. I witnessed his first stroke alone and it was terrifying. Sammy fell head first through a window onto the floor and was having a seizure and his head was bleeding. About a week after the accident Sammy returned home.

At 12 years old I became his carer, no training, notice or discussions. I didn’t even know he was coming home from hospital. Uncles and aunts dropped in initially but this soon became so infrequent and fleeting that it became of no consequence. After about a year of not attending school as a result of my caring responsibilities I ended up being placed in a children’s home.

My childhood was very difficult and the care system ill equipped me for adulthood. I left school illiterate with little hope for the future. I returned to education at 23 and started from scratch with basic skills and literacy, then an Access Course and finally a LLB (Hons) degree 2:2.

I see my background as a young carer and care leaver being an invaluable part of me which I’d never change; it made me what I am. This is why supporting young carers is so important. They, like me, care for their families through love and often put their own lives on hold. But with the right support networks these young carers can achieve whilst continuing to support their loved ones.

Helping young carers

Over the next three years our partnership with Henley Festival will see money raised, as well as vital support provided, so we can help more young carers. Find out more about the partnership

You can donate now, to help us continue our work. 

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