Shelley Portet's story
Shelley Portet is Managing Partner for Make It Famous, at The Brooklyn Brothers and is a former young carer. Shelley shares her story about being a young carer and how the media and advertising industries can better support young carers into work.
As our industry grapples with ways to be more inclusive to talent from diverse backgrounds, I’d like to put a word out there for a group that’s not often discussed – young carers.
Young carers can often miss out parts of their education, with little to no time to engage in extracurricular opportunities. This underserved, and often forgotten group in society is left feeling isolated, and lacking confidence – and yet they have so much to offer.
As a former young carer myself I know what it feels like to feel cut off from your peers growing up, blaming yourself for not keeping up with your social circle without accounting for the fact you have huge responsibilities where they have none. It can be tough and lonely, but it also made me empathetic, gave me a unique perspective on the world, and made me believe I was capable of overcoming whatever life threw at me.
This week as part of Young Carers Action Day, the Carers Trust released findings from a new survey reporting steep increases in the caring hours for young carers. Young carers reported feeling less connected and more stressed, with 41% of respondents reporting that they were concerned about their future prospects. As the after-effects of the pandemic continue to filter through, this problem is only getting worse.
It shouldn’t just fall to people like the Carers Trust to solve this issue– each and every organisation is capable of making a huge difference to the lives of young carers.
Shelley Portet, Managing Director of The Brooklyn Brothers
To complicate things further, many young carers don’t realise that they count as a young carer and so lack the support of professional bodies like the Carers Trust – this was certainly the case for me. At 14, I thought I was pretty much an adult, and definitely capable of taking on the responsibilities that fell to me when my mum (a single parent) was experiencing an MS attack or relapse. During these periods I was the primary carer for my whole family, including my younger siblings. My caring responsibilities ranged from taking care of the school run and making sure everyone ate three meals a day, to helping my mum get dressed, manage her medication, and be her emotional support while navigating the unpredictable nature of her condition.
The stress was immense, but I was fortunate enough to have a very supportive school, and times where my caring responsibilities would subside. Others are not so lucky.
The Carers Trust is campaigning for more respite opportunities for young carers, along with greater government monitoring of local authority support, and greater levels of communication between educational bodies. But it shouldn’t just fall to people like the Carers Trust to solve this issue– each and every organisation is capable of making a huge difference to the lives of young carers.
Five things your organisation can do right now to support young carers entering the workforce:
- Consider offering open office days, working with local branches of the Carers Trust to give young carers the chance to see and experience working life. Given many young carers look after house-bound relatives, it’s likely they might not have a broader view of the opportunities out there.
- When interviewing candidates, look beyond qualifications and work experience to see the person themselves – are they smart, willing and adaptable? Having preconceived ideas about minimum standards of attainment is a sure-fire way to instantly limit your talent pool and dramatically reduce your ability to hire people from all kinds of diverse backgrounds, not just young carers.
- Set a clear company policy supporting employees who have caring responsibilities (beyond those who are parents) and make this a visible part of any job advert – many people with caring responsibilities assume workplaces won’t be flexible enough to allow them to continue caring and so won’t even apply.
- If you’ve hired someone with a young carer background, make it clear that they’re not expected to solve things alone and that it’s important they ask for support – many young carers are used to taking on tasks that feel overwhelming without asking for help so set expectations right from the start.
- Normalise conversations in the workplace about caring, it’s a hidden part of daily life for many people and feeling seen can go an incredibly long way. Speak to existing employees to identify anyone who might have been a young carer themselves and find out if they would be interested in sharing their experience.
In the lead up to Young Carers Action Day I led a partnership with the Carers Trust to provide a series of workshops for young carers, giving them an insight into the world of advertising and helping them create content to tell their stories.
I will never know the person I might have been had I not experienced life as a young carer, but I wouldn’t take any of it back. And if your organisation is lucky enough to meet a young carer as they enter the workforce, you can be assured that you are meeting someone with a depth of resilience, patience, and compassion like no other.