Caring for Carers

Today is Carers Rights Day, a day dedicated to ensuring those who care for others know their rights and how they can access support.

Here at Gef, we’re using today to celebrate the young carers supported by Crossroads while highlighting some of the issues and challenges they have faced.  You can find out more about Crossroads here.

To get a better idea of what young carers do, we spoke to Emma Dulson, a former young carer who now works for Crossroads and a group of young carers who are supported by Crossroads. 

Emma

Emma told us that her experience as a young carer came from helping to care for her sister who has additional learning needs. 

She said: ‘When I was in primary school, there weren’t really an awful lot of people who were young carers, so I came across young carers as part of Crossroads through my mum. It was only small groups that we met in, about eight or 10 of us, we’d get picked up from across the island and go and spend time with other kids who were in similar positions as us.’

Many of these young carers looked after siblings and parents and Emma said it was a good experience to meet people who were in a similar boat as herself as there was no one else in her school who was also a young carer, so she enjoyed going as it gave all of them a time they didn’t have to worry about people they were caring for at home.

Emma said her experience as a young carer changed how she developed friendships with people at school. She explained: ‘A lot of my friends could invite me round to their house to play, as you do when you’re kids, but I felt that I couldn’t really invite people round to my house. It would just have been a lot harder explaining things to different people who might not have got their head around it. It did change as I got older as there was a lot more acknowledgement of people in our situation and I think there was definitely a lot more information out there for teachers and other people of my age, so it was nice to have a bit more help as well.’

While being a young carer affected her schooling ‘a little bit’, Emma said this typically stemmed from issues such as getting homework that was tricky to take home to do as if she needed help from parents, they weren’t always able to give the usual support to that which many other people have grown up. This was also impacted by teachers not being as aware as many are now around the pressures on young carers and their families. 

However, Emma said she has definitely seen a change in how teachers are with young carers now than when she herself was growing up. She explained: ‘With young carers, the scheme itself has got so much bigger, there are so many more different children getting the help they need to get access to things they need and Crossroads going into schools a lot more to get their message out there, to let children know what help is out there and to let them speak a bit more freely.

‘I didn’t really want to tell people what my family life was like, so now at least they are able to more, you tend to find.’

The World Has Changed

While acknowledging that she didn’t want to explain what was happening in her life, Emma said that many more families and carers are a lot more open about their lives at home than she was when she was younger. However, she said this is more of a reflection of how society has changed and that people are more willing to talk about and explain things to people than they perhaps were. 

Despite the improvements that have been made as a society, some of the support around carers is still failing. There has long been a campaign on the island to have carers recognised for the work they do which not only ensures the health and wellbeing of their loved ones but also, in a brutal way, saves the taxpayer a lot of money. 

Emma said that there are ‘still a few things that can be worked on’ but this mostly focussed on supporting families who are carers. She said: ‘We see families now through the nursery who need that little bit of extra help, but they really need to scream and shout in order to get it. That hasn’t really changed since when I was a kid, I remember my mum saying “you need to get this or that” and it seemed a really lengthy process, which is a shame.’

Crossroads

Emma clearly enjoyed the support Crossroads provided, so much so that she has gone on to work for the charity and is able to use her experiences to help today’s young carers. ‘I think that I am able to say I’ve been in a similar situation and you know a bit more about what there is out for families to access, which I hope is beneficial’, Emma said.

She added: ‘For me personally, I love the nursery, I love that we’re able to have children who are mainstream but do need that extra bit of support. We see so many children who have this caring and nurturing side to them and feel this is because of them having this exposure to children who do have that extra bit of help, whether that’s guiding them to a table or help to put a jacket on, they give them that little bit more time than they need and I think when we’re able to see that at a young age, they’re more accepting as they grow older as well.’

Young Carers

We also sent some questions to a group of young carers aged between eight and 11 years old. 

They told us that just some of the care they provide includes helping with housework, fetching and carrying things, as well as other physical tasks, one of the children explained: ‘I’m their hands’. As well as this, the young carers also said they communicate for the people they care for, they babysit, wake them up, feed them, make sure they’re showered, help change nappies, look after pets, give them lots of attention and help with siblings. 

While a few of the young carers said their social life isn’t impacted by them caring for others, most said it did in one way or another. We heard that one young carer couldn’t go out with big groups as their sibling doesn’t like big groups, two said that because their parents can’t drive, they miss out on things. Others said they have to plan around having respite care, that they feel anxious about leaving the people they care for or because they are tired from acting as a carer.

However, as well as a sense of helping someone to make their lives easier, the carers do what they do because ultimately they love the people they help. Although one did also admit they get special treats from their dad as a thank you for helping too.

School is hard enough with the added pressure of being a young carer, while some of the group we spoke to said they got extra support from their school, got special attention from attention or sometimes were able to do their work from home, others said that it can add more stress. Another carer told us that the police have been informed when they have been unable to go to school due to caring and that ‘I don’t feel like the school understands’. Others said that they get distracted by those they care for and that travelling for hospital appointments has led to them missing school. 

However, while they have faced difficulties, they have at least had support from social workers, support workers, headteachers, friends and of course Crossroads itself, the core message seemed to be here that the young carers just want someone who understands that some things are a little bit tougher for them than others. 

Interestingly and perhaps inevitably, most of the young carers said that they felt they have matured quicker than their friends at school, but didn’t necessarily put that down to being a young carer. One of the group said that their attitude towards the pandemic, for example, has been different to their mates. They said: ‘Most of my friends aren’t bothered, but I have to be careful.’ One of the others said they were worried about catching Covid as they didn’t know who else would help with the care they provide.

Others said that they have matured because of the extra responsibilities they have, that they have learned a lot about mental health while another said: ‘At school, I’m the same as my friends, but when I go home, I have to be more mature.’

Five of the young carers also outlined what they want to do when they are older. One said that cooking a lot at home had led to them wanting to be a chef, another didn’t outline what job they wanted to do but they wanted to ‘follow in my brother’s footsteps because I look up to him’. One said they want to be a scientist so they can make the world a better place, one said they wanted to be an engineer in the Royal Navy and another said they wanted to follow in their family’s line of work by working in a nursing home, showing that their dedication to caring for others doesn’t stop. 

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