Posted: 24 February 2016

Closing the gaps for young carers

If you know any children or teens, you’ll be familiar with the tropes: the angry kid, the overachiever, the shy one, the bully and so on, endlessly. Perhaps it was you when you were a child – labelled and boxed in as this or that.

You’ll also know that the reality is actually much more complex. We wear so many labels and identities, even as children and teenagers.

Unfortunately for many of the hundreds of thousands of young people who care for a loved one, the label ‘young carer’ isn’t always that obvious.

Take Kerry, the 17 year old was always the ‘naughty kid’ in her school. None of her teachers or schoolmates knew that Kerry was responsible for round-the-clock emotional and practical support for both her parents who experienced severe mental health issues.

Kerry never knew what a young carer was – managing household finances and dealing with the fallout from her parents’ erratic behaviour was just normal life. 

It was only when the local young carers’ project spoke at a school assembly that Kerry put the pieces together and made the decision to reach out to them for support.

Identifying young carers

There's nobody is there- no one who can actually help? shares the experiences of young carers from all over the country. Their experiences often mirror Kerry’s.

Young carers aren’t born with that label, despite it often being their reality.

The report calls for school staff, GPs and councils to ask the right questions, in a sensitive way, to identify young carers and any support they and their family might need.

This would mean children like Kerry wouldn’t have to wait until they are at crisis point. They wouldn’t have to take the often scary choice to disclose the fact that they are a carer – something that is especially true if the family member they care for has substance misuse or mental health issues.

Young carers can be any child or teen under 18. From any background. Of any ethnicity. They can be high achievers or skipping school.

They may be incredibly proud of being a carer; they may have no idea what a young carer is; or they may conceal it from as many people as possible.

They can be the sole carer for a parent, or live with both parents and care for one or multiple siblings.

There is no such thing as a ‘typical carer’ – which makes it vitally important that we stop assuming and start (sensitively) asking about the hidden lives of any child who has a family member with a physical disability; a long-term or chronic illness; a mental health issue or substance misuse issue. 

As Kerry puts it, ‘young carer is a label. Labels aren’t good, but labels can help in other ways. There’s stigma once people know, but it also opens doors.’

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Posted: 23 February 2016

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An interactive look at young carers' lives

Posted: 16 May 2013