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What working with young adult carers for a year taught me about the challenges they face

I’m Kim and I’m the young adult carer development worker at Falkirk and Clackmannanshire Carers Centre. I was appointed with funding provided by Making Carers Count, a programme led by Carers Trust with its network partners aiming to identify and support carers who are under-represented among the community groups they currently reach.

I’ve been in post for a year now and the time has flown by. When I started in this role I was fairly naive about what life as a young adult carer was like. However, over the past 12 months I’ve learned so much from our young adult carers and the Carers Trust partnership. Here are some of the main things I’ve learned:

The cost of living is hitting young adult carers hard

Life is chaotic for most people at the moment with the rising cost of living and this is something our young adult carers are increasingly concerned about. Their biggest worry is the cost of transport as petrol prices still remain high and public transport fares continue to increase. Unfortunately, a large chunk of our group are aged over 22 so can’t benefit from the free bus travel in Scotland.

Most of our young adult carers also wear many hats – studying, working, caring, meeting friends, and having time for themselves. Trying to juggle all of these roles and expectations is another challenge they face. Often caring is the complicating factor in the equation with other plans being impacted or put on hold to accommodate caring responsibilities.

Young adult carers need to be recognised

The largest support outside agencies could give to young adult carers is recognising them. Young adult carers are a grey area when it comes to ensuring recognition and support.

We have developed a strong partnership with our local college and are working hard to ensure that the needs of young adult carers in further education are being met. We are currently trying to implement a similar relationship with other further and higher education providers across Scotland.

Recognition of the unique needs of young adult carers by local and national government would be massively beneficial. Not only would it solidify young adult carers’ identities, but it would give understanding to employers, educators and other external professionals about what young adult carers face and the support they may need.

I also think raising awareness among employers would greatly help. Sometimes young adult carers feel scared to admit to being a carer in an interview because of fear they will hinder their chances of getting the job. Then if they need to take time off to accommodate caring responsibilities, or run late as a result, they are punished for this as if it were a voluntary choice.

Breaking down barriers to support and “normality” for young adult carers – however this may look – is our barrier with all external agencies.

There’s a diverse range of support available

At the project we support young adult carers from across Falkirk and Clackmannanshire and we pride ourselves on providing flexible and tailored support to our young adult carers. We offer individual support, monthly social groups, and different funding opportunities.

Individual support can look like a whole variety of different things including wellbeing chats, helping with a whole host of different applications (e.g. university, college, Young Scot card, CVs), signposting to other organisations, and providing a safe space to express how they are feeling. Sometimes it’s about helping the young adult carer to release stress or problem solve on non-caring aspects of their life. In turn, this will help them care better as they aren’t as stressed or anxious.

Our monthly social groups are very well attended and give an opportunity to just be a young adult for a few hours. We do a variety of different activities – all picked by the young adult carers themselves. We’ve been axe throwing, bowling, gone for a bite to eat, but our favourite is to grab a Starbucks and just have a catch up.

Funding is important to young adult carers, especially when we look back at the challenges young adult carers face. We support access to creative break funding, respite breaks, young carers grants, the Clacks activity fund, and other funding pools as they come up.

Specific to our project is the development of a programme of self-growth. featured workshops on self-growth topics that our young adult carers were interested in learning about or life skills that the wanted to enhance, coupled with a small fund to help them access external self-growth opportunities. The fund has been used to cover interview clothes, passports, driving lessons and reading materials so far.

Young adult carers benefit from experiences that take them out of their caring role

On top of our mainstream support, we like to support young adult carers to access new experiences. We ran a three-day residential for nine young adult carers to Loch Eil in Fort William back in October. Despite it raining for the whole three days I don’t think I’ve seen smiles bigger in a long time. We scrambled through Glen Nevis, dunked ourselves in the loch, went canoeing, ziplined in the pitch dark and completed loads of little leadership and teamwork tasks. Everybody came away from the residential having grown in themselves and bonded as a group. Now our young adult carers who attended are much more confident and often draw on things they learned while when we were away.

We also work with external organisations to deliver these opportunities. In November we took three young adult carers to the Glasgow Science Centre in partnership with Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution and Cyrenians. Here our young adult carers learned about your three brains – your head, your heart, and your gut – and how they react to different stimuli. From this they can now recognise their different emotional states and how these impact their body and, in turn, manage their reactions. They are also big kids at heart and loved getting free reign of the science centre for the day, playing and experimenting with all the different exhibits.

Young adult carers respond to different consultation approaches

Overall, the purpose of all our consultations is to ensure our project continues to be led and shaped by the needs and wants of our young adult carers. We like to have rolling consultations weaving throughout the project. We don’t want to exhaust our young adult carers with survey or focus group fatigue. To achieve this balance of still gathering opinions but not burning them out we tend to run our consultations over bites to eat. This allows us to just have open conversations about a variety of different things - and who doesn’t love a good bit of grub to chat over?

When we have had to use surveys, we’ve found that QR codes are really effective – though credit for this idea has to go to our engagement worker Alice. This has allowed us to hand them out at groups, and we can chat through what the survey is but then the young adult carer can take the QR code away with them to complete in their own time. They are also super easy to use on social media and we’ve even generated one for our registration form.

Helping carers grow has helped me do the same

I applied for the role of young adult carer development worker coming straight out of my Master’s degree at university. I studied psychology for five years and knew I wanted to help people, but I didn’t want to sit locked up in an office or just handing out diagnoses. My knowledge of carer specific issues was fairly limited. What I did have experience with was helping young people from adverse backgrounds overcome barriers and challenges in their lives. This role was an opportunity for me to adapt the skills I already had, learn about new challenges, and in turn help people using a much more hands on and practical approach.

A year ago, I probably wouldn’t have expected to learn so much – and not always just in the literal sense of taking in information. While my knowledge of young adult carer issues has increased, and I can now confidently raise awareness of these, I’ve also developed a lot as a person. I’ve learned how to be more confident, how to write quarterly funder reports, how to listen to what isn’t being said and how to own my responsibilities. This role is a continuous learning process, and I thrive on learning and developing.

About Making Carers Count

Making Carers Count is a multi-partner programme aiming to identify and support carers who are under-represented amongst the community groups we currently reach and who have been disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

We are creating new and wider collaborations, extending engagement methods, increasing learning, and enhancing how support is delivered to unpaid carers from these groups. 

Funding from the Making Carers Count programme has enabled Falkirk and Clackmannanshire Carers Centre to recruit a dedicated young adult carer development worker. This has allowed ensured that young adult carers have access to the right support, can influence decision making and be involved in improving the knowledge and understanding that partnership organisations have of young adult carers and their needs.

Over the course of the funding, Falkirk and Clackmannanshire Carers Centre have worked in collaboration with young adult carers to design, develop and deliver age-appropriate information, targeted individual support packages, group and social activity opportunities, and wider involvement experiences.


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