Reflections on Carers' Week: supporting young carers
I have spent many years working with young carers in Warwickshire and Coventry having had a substantial caring role myself looking after my mother and then brother from the age of 5. I was compelled to volunteer and begin my vocation as I got to the upper age limit for support from Warwickshire Young Carers' Project.
Last week was Carers' Week - a time when the whole sector of organisations that support carers, young and old, join those carers in unity to shout about the vital role they play in their families and the benefit that brings to the wider community and economy. There have been events up and down the country where young carers have been able to come together to express how their lives are impacted by a caring role to decision-makers and community leaders.
In Manchester, the Family Action Manchester Young Carers' Forum performed a drama production at a community centre (Tuesday 19th) and at Manchester Town Hall (21st) as part of the Carers' Event. The powerful dramatisation called "A Day in the Life..." devised by the young people on the forum follows the lives of two fictional young carers who provide substantial emotional and physical care for their mother who has a mental health illness.
It is a great portrayal of the emotional stresses that many young carers experience at home, at school and in their community. The drama resolves with the young carers coming home from a support group and they talk about the relief of being able to be with peers and not having to explain themselves. The young carers described to me how they benefited therapeutically from devising and leading the production.
The two things that the dramatisation did that captured my imagination was that firstly it portrayed a spectrum of situations and emotions that would have made it accessible for most young people with caring roles to identify with and encourage them to access support. Secondly it was a fantastic example of what can be achieved when young people and adults work in partnership, sharing skills and experience to create a youth-led project.
There are an estimated 175,000 young carers in the UK (conservative estimates) caring for a parent or sibling; carrying out tasks such as cooking, cleaning, washing, sorting family finances as well as looking after siblings when disabled/ill parents are not able to.
Young carers often experience higher levels of anxiety, stress, low self-esteem and social isolation. Regular group sessions are one of the typical cornerstone ways of supporting young carers. Along with one-to-one emotional support and short breaks these regular groups provide invaluable time for young carers to meet each other and feel they are not alone.
I now work for Young Advisors Charity, a national charity that trains young people to become community consultants who act as change agents to make a difference to young people locally through social action and helping decision makers in local/national government and services to engage young people. Locally recruited with a national reach, the movement has over 1000 young people on its member ship with over 50 locally hosted projects nationally.
I am embarking on a project to work in partnership with young carers to commercialise on their unique experiences of being a young person with a caring role in their community. This project seeks to bring about increased confidence, self esteem through showing adults what it is like to be a young carer using their service and how to support them better. It is a great opportunity to tap in to entrepreneurial skills that I have seen many young carers develop through having a very adult experience of the world at an age when they are able to learn so quickly.
I am really excited about working with a group of young carers and professionals in this way. I believe that it will be another way in which they are able to make sense of how their experiences fit in to the wider context of their lives to do something that will benefit their community.