Recognising that a young carer is a ‘carer’

One of the greatest difficulties for young carers, or indeed, any carers is that they very often do things to help the people they love, without recognising that they are essentially assuming the role of ‘carer’. It means that they can live without the support or respite that is so often needed for people with caring responsibilities.

We visited Carer’s Choices and Carers First Services for young carers to understand more about the challenges faced by young carers. Kelly* and her children, Fiona*, 8, and Dylan*, 9, were attending a group that day and shared their story with us.

Kelly said: “Fiona has been attending a young carers group here for twelve weeks now. I was searching for some kind of sibling support for her as her brother Dylan has a diagnosis of autism. I searched online and on social media, for some kind of support for Fiona but found nothing. Having to look for this kind of support made me feel c**p as I could see that Fiona needed some help and I felt really bad about it.

“Fiona says that she doesn’t really do anything for Dylan, but she does a great deal; prompting him to get dressed, reminding him to put his shoes on and knowing how to soothe him when he is agitated. She somehow knows not to hug him but sits behind him so he knows she is there, like a hug without touching. She also keeps an eye on her brother when they are outside home, ‘steering him in the right direction’.

“It’s difficult for us to go out as a family very much as Dylan doesn’t like leaving the house. That means Fiona was getting stuck in all the time. Since joining the young carers group, Fiona is like a new child, growing in confidence to the point where she has been able to join a dance class and participate in a public event.”

Essex Young Carers (EYC) completed an assessment on Fiona this summer and allocated her a keyworker, who will be going to see her at home and at school. She has already enjoyed a camping trip with EYC.

Kelly believes that the young carers group has been great, although she had to research and refer her daughter to the service herself as she was not identified via any other route. She feels that the pastoral care in school is ‘spread too thin’ and that information for families with young carers ‘just isn’t out there’. From the point of Dylan’s diagnosis, Kelly said that the needs of his sibling had never been identified or addressed by any professional agency of individual.

Fiona told us that she particularly enjoys having ‘sweets and doughnuts’ at young carers and that the staff there ‘are really good’. She recently enjoyed grass tobogganing on a trip to the activity centre and has grown her hair so she can donate it to make a wig for a child with cancer.

Kelly said: “Previously, Fiona had told me ‘that she shouldn’t be alive and then Dylan would be able to have all the attention’. Now she wants to be a teacher when she grows up and she asks when the next young carers session is because has made friends of her own there. The family days are very helpful as they include everyone.”

*All names have been changed to protect the identity of the family