CHILDLINE ADVICE: Help and advice on caring for the young carers
Research suggests there are more than 800,000 young carers in the UK, each trying to look after a loved one while facing the challenges of growing up. Caring can be an all-consuming role, and often, children who care feel like they have no control over their lives, as they regularly tell us at Childline.
That’s why, in today’s column, I want to look at what it can be like for a child or young person to care for someone. Then, if you know, or even are a young carer, there are some tips on how to manage
responsibility alongside growing up.
Being a young carer is defined as a child or young person who looks after another person. Caring for someone might involve things you do every day like cooking and cleaning. Or they might have to do much more if their family member can't do some things themselves.
A young carer might look after someone because they're sick, or have a disability or mental health issues. Or, if a parent or family member has an alcohol or drug problem, they may be unable to care
for themselves or anyone else.
Whatever the situation, having a dependent at such a young age can take its toll on young people.
One girl told Childline: “I’m 15 and I’m a young carer. My dad is disabled and paralysed in a wheelchair. I cook, I wash the dishes, I empty dishwashers, make his bed, run his baths, do laundry and put him to bed.
“I have to do everything for my dad. I love him, and I’d always do anything for him but it’s getting too much and it’s just so stressful.”
Young carers tell our counsellors about how they feel trapped as a carer, and even though they love their family member, it can be incredibly stressful for them.
Being a carer impacts every part of a young person’s life, ranging from the practical tasks of caring, to struggling with school work, exams, or jobs. One of the most common things young people tell us
is how they feel they are missing out on having a social life.
A boy told Childline: “My mum has clinical depression and I have been her carer for a few years. I act happy when I want
to cry and scream. I can never have friends come round and it interferes with my social life too.”
If you’re an adult, there are things you can do to help. You can help the young carer to look after themselves, encouraging them to seek support from a paid carer if necessary. You could take them a
home cooked meal to enjoy, or just offer to talk to them about how they’re coping.
If you’re the parent of a child whose friend is a carer, you could offer to take them to see their friend, so that they can socialise. You can talk to your child about the situation, and help them understand the position that their friend is in.
And if you’re a teacher who knows that here is a young carer in your class, be prepared to understand the situation they’re in and, if appropriate, ask if there is any extra help they might need with school work or exams.
Young carers can always be signposted to Childline, where they can speak to a counsellor over the phone or online, play games, and join moderated message boards which include experiences and coping mechanisms written by other young carers.
Childline is free to call on 0800 1111, and for adults who want advice on supporting a child’s
wellbeing, they can call the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000, or email [email protected].