Young Carers

Young carers are children and young people who care for or help care within a family affected by the illness, disability, AOD or mental health issue of one or more of its members or friends. Carers Australia conservatively estimates that there are at least 388,000 young carers in Australia.[1] There are approximately 11,500 young carers in Canberra which accounts for 10% of the ACT’s youth population.[2] Young carers may experience positive impacts of caring providing them with practical skills and a sense of responsibility that aid in the journey to independence and assist them throughout life. Young carers also report having stronger relationships with family members, greater sense of achievement, connectedness and feelings of fulfilment. However, young carers may also experience negative impacts of caring including financial hardship, exclusion from opportunities and activities, and an overall impact on the wellbeing of the young person and their families.

The roles which a young carer may undertake are quite varied. In their fact sheet Young Carers: The Facts, CYCLOPSACT state that:

Young carers are responsible for providing health care treatment ranging from dressings through to catheter bags; emotional support and assistance in the maintenance of a healthy, organised household. Young carers’ responsibilities range from cleaning and cooking through to more major tasks such as bathing, dressing and providing assistance with toileting etc to incapacitated family members. Some young carers caring for a family member with a mental health condition are also required to provide other types of support sometimes including restraint of suicidal relatives, and emotional and behavioural monitoring. Often providing primary care, young carers take on significant caring responsibilities.[3]

Though young carers account for 10% of Australia’s youth population they do not account for 10% of mainstream service reception.[4] Young carers have historically been forgotten, ignored or excluded from processes, programs, services and supports. Workers may sometimes feel they lack the skills or resources to support a young person caring for a parent or family member. But it’s everyone’s responsibility to work to remove the barriers that exclude young carers from accessing the opportunities they deserve.

How I Want To Be Supported: Tips for Workers from Young Carers

The Youth Coalition and the Children of Parents with a Mental Illness Project developed this fact sheet from consultations with young people who have a parent with a mental illness or comorbidity.They were asked what messages they would like workers and other health professionals to be made aware of. The Youth Coalition collated a range of their responses into the following key messages.

Support me and my family

Young people want support to be available for both them and the members of their family.

“Have a family and an individual focus.”

We feel alone sometimes

When a parent has a mental illness or comorbidity, each member of the family can feel isolated. It is important to help connect each member of the family with appropriate support and to the community.

“The worst thing you can do to someone with a mental illness or drug problem is to make them feel different and left out.”

My parent’s illness affects me

Young people talked about how their parent’s mental illness or dual diagnosis affected them and the other members of the family. It can affect all aspects of life.

“[Looking at] my [school] marks you can tell where my mum wasn’t well. You can map it.”

Build skills and supports in the family

Young people called on workers to support building skills and supports systems within the family.

“Support the parent’s to support their kids.”

Help me find out what’s out there

Young people wanted support to find out what programs, services and supports are available in the community for them and their family. It is important for workers to keep up to date with supports and resources so that they can link up young people and their families.

“There needs to be a larger awareness of what services are out there.”

If I’m wary of you it may be because I’ve had my trust broken before

Young people discussed how they’d had their trust broken by adults in a range of positions of power and responsibility. These experiences sometimes had a profound and long-term impact on young people’s willingness to seek external support and information.

“This worker said, “Yeah, you can trust me”, and then I found out that they had told other people, and then it went around that everyone knew that I had a schizo mum. Then I was called schizo cause my mum was schizophrenic. They convinced me I could trust them. It screwed up everything for me.”

It’s hard seeing my parent like that

Young people talked about how difficult it was to see their parent unwell.  They talked about how frightening these experiences were and how important it was for them to be informed and supported.

“It’s pretty scary when you see your mum connected to machines, I was 14. You see that in movies and that is when people die. I didn’t know what was happening. I was shocked and all sad.”

Be flexible

Young people called on workers to be flexible and youth friendly in the way they work.  They said they were more likely to engage and seek support if this happened.

“They’ll arrange a meeting with you and if you’re not comfortable they will go somewhere else.”

Stigma hurts

Young people had many experiences to share about the negative impact of stigma on themselves, their parent and their family. They thought it was important for workers to challenge stereotypes and stigma.

“You get excluded because [the parents] have something wrong with them.”

Take time to help me find practical solutions

Young people called on workers to work with them to identify practical and realistic solutions. They considered each family to be unique in their needs and solutions.

“I’d rather talk to someone face to face that can give me advice about my mum. You know, next time she does this, do that…”

It takes time

Most of the young people couldn’t remember a time when their parents weren’t unwell. It’s important to recognise that this is a long-term issue potentially requiring long-term support.

“It took 6 years for my mum to be diagnosed with bipolar, 9 trips to the hospital and many pills later…”

Help me understand what is happening

Young people called on workers to support them to understand what was happening to their parent, to their family and to them. “The worst is when you don’t know what’s going on or why a worker is doing something.”

[1] Debbie Noble-Carr (2001) Young Carers Research Project, Carers Australia.

[2] Youth Coalition of the ACT (2008) Young Carers Research.

[3] CYCLOPSACT (2002) Young Carers: The Facts, Anglicare Canberra and Goulburn,, as at 15 March, 2010.

[4] Tim Moore (2001) Barriers to Access for Young Carers to Mainstream Services, CYCLOPSACT, Anglicare Canberra and Goulburn.

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