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Are you a young carer? The impact of caring on young carers
by TeenHelp April 13th 2022, 02:00 AM

Are you a young carer? The impact of caring on young carers
By Holly (Celyn)
What is a young carer?

Put simply, young carers are young people (under the age of 18) who provide care or support for someone else, often a family member (regardless of whether they live in the same house or not). This might be for someone older such as a parent or grandparent, or for someone younger such as a younger sibling. The care provided depends on the person, their disability (mental illness or physical disabilities) and their needs. Some disabled people may only need help in certain areas, while others may need greater care.

Doing chores or looking after a younger sibling because parents are trying to encourage responsibility does not make someone a young carer. What makes someone considered to be a young carer is that they are often providing unpaid, long-term care or support for a relative with a disability.

What do young carers do?

There are many tasks that young carers may do, although this may depend on whom they are caring for and their support needs. Young carers may be involved in intimate physical care, such as helping someone with dressing, bathing, grooming, toileting, feeding and administering medication. They may not be able to leave the person unattended and so they may also take on other tasks such as watching over them and making sure they come to no harm, and providing first aid/seeking help if any harm does come to the person.

Other physical tasks that a young carer may do include general household chores such as cooking, cleaning, laundry and shopping. This may be because the parent (or other disabled person) is unable to do these tasks or because the parent is busy caring for someone else. This is also true for such tasks including taking a sibling to school, looking after younger siblings, and being more responsible for themselves (such as making their own packed lunch or catching a bus to school if a parent can no longer drive). In some circumstances, a young carer may also help with financial and administrative responsibilities, such as ensuring the bills are paid on time or helping to fill in forms and paperwork.

However, there are also more subtle caring that a young carer may provide, such as emotional support. For example, they may provide a listening ear to the person needing care, or to other caregivers within the family, or even helping to explain a parent’s illness to a younger sibling. While these are less obvious forms of care, they are still considered to be duties a young carer may provide.

What is the impact of caring on a young person?

There are many ways a young carer may be affected by the caring they provide to a loved one.

The most prominent impact is that, due to the roles being reversed and the young person providing care, the relationship with the person they are caring for will be different compared to in families where the person does not need care. For example, caring for a parent, may mean that the young person misses out on a parental relationship. The parent may not be able to go to parent-teacher meetings, attend school shows or award ceremonies, teach them important life lessons, be there to listen and support or take them on holiday. It doesn’t have to be a parent, it could be an aunt, uncle or grandparent. Equally, it could be a sibling relationship that is affected. A young carer looking after an older relative may have less time to spend with a sibling. Or perhaps the sibling needs care and the young carer feels that the relationship is more about care and making sure the sibling’s needs are met rather than having fun like other sibling relationships.

Other social relationships may be affected too. For example, a young carer may have to miss out on socialising, cut socialising short or not be able to attend clubs or gatherings if there is no one else to provide care. In turn, friends who do not know or understand about caring for a relative may be less willing to invite the young carer out if they feel they won’t be able to come along.

Sadly, young carers are at an increased risk of bullying (Anti-bullying Alliance, 2018). It might be that there are noticeable signs, such as having unwashed clothes, which bullies may pick up on leading to bullying. Or a relative may have a stigmatised and poorly understood illness such as severe mental health conditions, alcohol or substance addiction or a severe developmental delay. Unfortunately, this may mean that if the nature of the illness comes to light, bullies may target the young carer.

Likewise, caring may also interfere with schooling, particularly if the young carer is being bullied. Bullying may cause a young carer to want to avoid school, but there are also other reasons why a young carer may be late or miss school. It may be that they have to take a sibling to school first, meaning that they will be late to their own school or they might have to wait for a paid carer to turn up or make sure the relative needing care is okay before leaving to go to school. If the loved one is unwell, the young carer may feel the need to stay at home or simply just not want to go to school (and if they do attend school, it may be difficult to concentrate on lessons if they are worrying about their loved one).

Having extra responsibilities such as caring may mean that the young person has less time to complete homework, or they may be more prone to forgetting about homework. This can then cause problems at school when teachers notice the young person repeatedly not handing in homework or doing well in homework tasks. If teachers are unaware, the young carer may get told off for not handing in homework or not concentrating in class. This may lead a young carer to feel frustrated and perhaps not see the point in schools or exams when they are responsible for someone else’s care and have difficulty imagining life any other way.

How might a young carer feel?

Caring can also impact on how a young person may feel, emotionally, both positively and negatively.

Young carers may be proud to care or feel that caring makes them feel good, or caring for a parent, makes them feel honoured. They may like being able to care for a relative and feel that it allows a close bond to develop. Alternatively, a young carer might not identify with the label ‘young carer’ and simply accepts that due to the illness or disability of a loved one, they must now step up and provide care.

However, there are many negative emotions too.

Young carers might feel burdened by their responsibilities and feel they are missing out, or they may feel jealous of friends or younger siblings who are not providing care. They might also realise they are missing out on relationships when they compare their family to someone else’s, and long for a ‘normal’ family and social life. They might feel alone as others, including friends, may not understand what being a young carer is actually like and may feel left out when friends get together but they can’t (and worried that they might potentially get left out in the future).

Specifically, around the loved one they are caring for, young carers might feel scared and anxious about the future, especially if the relative has a terminal or degenerative condition, and can see the decline. They might also feel upset or even depressed, when they see a loved one struggle, especially if they weren’t always disabled, and more so if the condition may get worse over time. Due to this, young carers may not want to move out, instead preferring to be close to the relative needing care and may want to opt for caring for the relative rather than continuing with their education or finding work.

Support for young carers

Even though caring can both be rewarding and challenging, many young carers may benefit from additional support.

While it can help to tell teachers at school (especially for extending deadlines for homework) and other trusted people, sometimes it can really help to talk to other young carers or people who understand what it’s like to be a young carer. Young carers may already be involved with social services (or social services may already be aware that someone is being cared for by a young carer) and young carers can get referred to a young carers support group in their local area. These groups allow a young carer to connect with other young carers and trained professionals who will listen and support with any concerns a young carer may have, as well as provide respite such as fun activities and trips away and a space for friendships to grow.

Below is a list of associations that also offer help to young carers/caregivers:
American Association of Caregiving Youth https://aacy.org/
Young Caregivers Connect https://youngcaregiversconnect.ca/
Young Carers Network https://youngcarersnetwork.com.au/
Carers Trust https://carers.org/
NHS Help for Young Carers https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/social...-young-carers/

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