My experience as a young carer
I grew up with my mum and my sister, who has cerebral palsy, severe sight loss and epilepsy, and who I was a young carer for. I was identified as being a young carer at 14, but my responsibilities started before this age. Although my mum was the main carer, I would often help with physio exercises, some personal care, sight guiding when out in public, or just generally being an extra pair of hands. Whenever my sister was anxious, , I would often be looking out for signs that she needed some extra reassurance.
I was very lucky to receive support from a local charity, meaning I had access to 1:1 support with a project worker, groups and trips with other young carers, and information about bursaries I was eligible for.
This support was life-changing for me; I had a healthy outlet to verbalise and work through any challenging emotions of guilt, anxiety or frustration that I was having. It also gave me access to a whole community of people who just “got it”.
Making Time for Yourself
As much of a cliché as it sounds, you can’t help other people unless you help yourself first. Just as flight attendants tell passengers to attend to their own oxygen masks before helping those around them, it is so important that you do not ignore your own needs! They are just as valid as anyone else’s, even though it can be easy to put them to one side. Young carers need and deserve time for themselves, time where they can put their worries and caring duties to one side and be a child again. No one can run on an “empty tank”, and taking time to focus on yourself and your needs in that moment gives you a chance to “refuel”.
I try to have a small (and therefore more likely to be achieved!) set of non-negotiables each day. I find moving (running, walking, dancing, or anything!) a very effective stress reliever, and a good way of incorporating a change of scenery for the day. When possible, if you can, even prioritising a daily ten-minute walk round the block allows you to have some me-time and gives you a well-deserved break.
Young carers, on top of their caring role, may have to also contend with many of the other challenges facing young people at the moment. Exams and schoolwork can place a lot of pressure on an individual, so never feel embarrassed to reach out to a member of staff you trust in school. Even if you feel as though your worries aren’t “bad enough” to get help, it is always better to nip these things in the bud! As well as this, prioritising rest days and a good sleep schedule where possible can lead to overall lower levels of stress.
The current cost of living crisis is also a very worrying time for many young people, with lots of insecurity and uncertainty around finances and job prospects. There are food banks across the country, as well as local organisations offering non-repayable grants and bursaries to young people in need. It is always worth contacting your school or local youth charity to see what is available near you. Never be afraid to reach out for help: it is usually there, even if it is not easy to find at first!
Make Time for Young Carers
Growing up, as well as the support I received from my local charity, my school was also aware of the situation. Many schools have a designated “young carers champion”, a member of staff who is a first port of call for any problems. For example, on a particularly difficult day, I would see my “young carers champion” and let him know, so he could get in touch with the teachers I had that day and ask them to cut me some slack, or let me get some fresh air if needed! If you can, I would recommend asking if your school has something similar, or, if not, if they could set one up.
This year, the theme for Young Carers Action Day is “Make Time for Young Carers”. Often, young carers’ needs, as well as the challenges they face, are unseen and ignored by schools and other settings. Don’t be afraid to ask your “young carers champion”, or a similar staff member who you trust in your school” to set up a support group for you and other young carers in your school. Similarly, asking for an extension on homework because of a stressful time at home, a space at school to do homework, or permission to use your phone to check in on someone at home, are all perfectly reasonable ways schools can make time for young carers and their needs.
The Mix and Carers Trust also provide a lot of support for young carers and young adult carers. For people caring for a sibling, the website Sibs is also helpful. These websites provide information and resources that can pinpoint you to local young carers services.
I can personally attest to the amazing work that these charities do, and they provided me with so much as I was growing up. If you think you could benefit from support, or are simply interested to see what support is available in your area, I would definitely recommend reaching out for help, as it has been life-changing for me! This also goes for people who are not sure if they are young carers; charities carry out assessments (which is a lot less formal and scary than it sounds!) to look at your needs and how they can best support you. If you are, or think you might be, a young carer, support is definitely out there, and you are more than deserving of it.