January 30, 2020

What is it like to be a young carer?

Young Carers Awareness Day is an annual event led by the Carers Trust. The aim of the day is to recognise the UK’s young carers, to raise awareness of the challenges faced by them and to campaign for greater support.

Brain injuries can be caused by accidents but can also be as a result of strokes, brain cancer, and oxygen starvation during surgery. The results of such injuries can range in severity but can often be life-changing insofar as someone may lose the ability to move, to communicate, and to eat. A person who has suffered a brain injury may also change in terms of behaviour and personality and may need a great deal of emotional support as a result of this.

When an adult suffers a brain injury young family members may take on many responsibilities that they would not normally have at their age in order to look after that person. They may have to provide emotional support, look after the adult’s personal needs like bathing and dressing, help them to communicate, and help them get out of bed and dressed. There can also be organisational responsibilities such as collecting prescriptions, giving out medicines, managing the family budget, cooking, housework and shopping. Being a young carer may also involve looking after the other members of the family, such as younger siblings, when the other family member can no longer manage it.

What is life like for a young carer?

Recent research carried out by the Carers Trust shows that as many as one in five secondary school children may be a young carer, and for many their caring role has started even earlier than this.

Being a young carer can be very isolating, worrying and stressful, impacting upon many areas of a young person’s life including school, college, work and university. Young carers miss an average of 48 days of school because of their role, and 68% have even been bullied at some point directly because of having to care for someone. Young carers report that other children do not understand the responsibilities that they have and how they have less free time which often leads to friendship issues.

The Young Carers Support Centre Bristol and South Gloucestershire provide help and support to children ages 8-18 and their families. They have kindly shared with us the interesting results of their latest annual survey, asking young carers about their role. These statistics really help to emphasise the pressure that young carers are under and the impact it has on their lives.

The results show that:

  • young carers spend 69% of their time caring;
  • 57% of the participants reported that the impact of their caring responsibilities is getting worse;
  • on the happiness scale, young carers reported being happy only 46% of the time;
  • the question relating to areas in which young carers are struggling with their mental health (most of the time or sometimes) is concerning: 76% report being low or depressed, 86% feel anxious or worried, 92% are stressed, 60% eating too much or too little, 27% self harming, 44% panic attacks, 77% feeling angry, 40% feeling like they can’t carry on and 78% struggling to sleep. 59% reported receiving support with their mental health, 39% directly linked their mental health to their caring responsibilities;
  • only 29% reported not feeling lonely or isolated;
  • 45% are not happy in school;
  • 51% said their education had been impacted by being a young carer (with the highest rated reason being missing school due to the impact of caring);
  • 52% requested more support in school;
  • only 43% were able to get out as much as they would like;
  • 37% report their caring responsibilities will force them to think differently about their future.

It is important to note that the participants in this study were all receiving support and so it would be fair to say that many of these statistics would be worse for young carers who have not been identified or who are not receiving support.

The Young Carers Support Centre Bristol and South Gloucestershire have also very kindly shared Casie’s story with us, which really highlights the responsibility that some children have and the importance of providing help and support to these young people.

Casie, a young carer, shares her story

“My name is Casie. I am 12 and I live in Yate. I care for my twin sister Chloe who has Autism and ADHD. I help keep her calm, and have to do lots of things around the house so that my Mum can keep Chloe safe.

When Chloe has a bad night sometimes I sit awake with her so she doesn’t get scared or hurt herself. My mum tells me not to but I still do it because I want my mum to have sleep, because she cares for my dad as well. He has brain damage. I help Chloe with her homework and I stay in with her because she isn’t allowed to go out to play with our friends on her own. Chloe sometimes hurts me when she gets really angry but I just try and keep her calm and sit with her until she calms down. I help my mum look after my dad too. I cook and help around the house. Being a young carer affects me because I can’t do the things normal kids do like go out to play with my friends or chill out and have fun. I have to do so much helping at home. It makes me feel sad sometimes because I can’t be normal but I like to help my mum as well.

The best thing I have done with Young Carers so far is a trip to Magdalen Farm. I had so much fun and I could just be me... without having to do jobs for Chloe or help look after her or help my mum and I could play and have friends. And not get hit by Chloe.

To all young carers, I would like to say that I know how you feel and we all have to deal with a lot. But I want you to know you are not alone. We have each other and we have the Young Carers team to give us a break and if we need someone to talk to. So please don’t feel alone.”

What help is available for young carers?

It has been shown that identifying young carers early on and providing support at important times of their lives, such as exam time, can make a crucial difference. This includes making sure that more young carers know how to access their local young carers service. Many young people have been able to cope with caring if they have support from other family members or external sources.

There are a number of points of contact for young carers including Carers Direct; Childline ; The Children’s Society; Barnados; Crossroads Young Carers Project, for support for young carers in Northern Ireland. The Carers Trust are able to advise about any young carer projects in a particular local area and have a number of young carer services throughout the country.

Tracy Eatwell runs a young carers group at a local school and understands the importance of young carers having a place to go:

“Every single child that comes along to our young carers group has a huge smile on their face! It is so rewarding knowing this group makes a huge difference to these children emotionally. They can just be themselves for an hour without any worries. Each term we all decide on the different activities we are going to do. So far we have made eye masks whilst listening to relaxing music, painted stones, made salt dough decorations, created glitter jars, made homemade slime and much more. I love our Wednesday group, we always have ‘good old chat’ and laugh a lot. I have met some really lovely incredible young people and I am so proud of each and every one of them.”

A new campaign to help

The Carers Trust is calling on compulsory education providers to do more to proactively identify young carers and to ensure that they receive the recognition and support they deserve through the Count Me In! campaign. Hopefully more will be done to help support these amazing young people.

Sometimes acquired brain injuries can be as a result of medical negligence. RWK Goodman have vast experience of successfully running cases for adults who have suffered brain injuries due to medical negligence and securing compensation for them.

Caring for someone with an acquired brain injury is difficult. Compensation can help provide professional carers and therapy which can relieve family carers and allow young carers to just be children.

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