YOUNG carers shared their moving stories at the launch of a new conference.
The youngsters – some as young as 10 – all look after ill or disabled family members and wanted health professionals to learn from their experiences.
Doctors, social workers and youth group leaders were at the event in Sunderland’s Sandhill Centre, to hear from some of the 600 young carers supported by Sunderland Carers’ Centre.
Young adult carer Becky Nelmes, from Penshaw, said the conference’s aim was to raise awareness and help professionals offer better support to kids turned carers.
The 25-year-old, who looks after mum Lynne and older sister Nicola, has been working with the Carers’ Centre for about 15 years.
She said: “When I went to school, I had support from the centre and it is really the support from them that got me through school.
“Without the centre, life would have been hard.”
Becky is now a full-time carer for her mum, who has MS, and her sister, who has cerebral palsy, but is also working with the Carers’ Centre to support her peers.
“It is not all Cinderella stories with cooking and cleaning,” she said. “It has a lot more emotional impact, which I think is important to bring across.”
Claire Alderson, young carer development worker at the centre, said: “It is great giving the young carers the chance to tell their stories and letting professionals know what it is really like to be a young carer.
“We are so proud of the young people involved for all the hard work they have put into organising this event.”
Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West, has campaigned on behalf of the youngsters.
She said: “My conversations with young carers in Sunderland over the years, and the experiences and priorities they’ve shared with me, has formed the basis of my campaigning for greater support for them during the passage of the Children and Families Bill, and before that as well.
“I’m delighted that we were able to secure greater provision for young people with caring responsibilities after cross-party agreement on the need for it, and I’m looking forward to reporting back to the young people at this conference.”
There are an estimated 2,407 young carers in Sunderland, aged from five to 25, who are helping look after loved ones because they are disabled, have mental health issues or problems with drugs or alcohol.
The Carers’ Centre says many youngsters are unrecognised by professionals and do not receive the appropriate support.