Where do I even begin? The countdown to 2020 feels like 100 years ago, but also weirdly feels like it was yesterday. This year has both been the fastest and slowest year of my life. I have experienced ridiculous highs and wins and experienced feelings of uncertainty, stress and overwhelm, all at the same time.
2020: a year of bushfires, floods, impeachments, virtual connectivity, home hobbies and one global pandemic. This is definitely 365 days that won’t blend into every other year, but will be one where we learnt new things about ourselves, about our strength, resilience and for me, a year where I learnt to ask for help more than ever before.
In March this year when the world flipped on its head, the Little Dreamers team worked incredibly hard and within six weeks, our traditionally face-to-face programs were all being delivered virtually. This means that while many social services ceased during the COVID-19 crisis, Young Carers were still able to access online Holiday Programs, virtual one-on-one and group Mentoring, Big Dreamers sessions and additional case management. Gaps were found in the provision of education support and online tutoring to help Young Carers whose families are not able to provide the necessary support for home schooling. To combat this, we launched an Online Tutoring program at Little Dreamers with over 30 Young Carers taking up this offer in less than 2 weeks.
As I expected, the pandemic resulted in additional worries and anxieties for those Young Carers who look after a loved one with a complex health need. They were concerned about how to provide vital support without putting their family at risk. This meant that many had less access to essential services including supermarkets and pharmacies, especially in circumstances where the main driver in the family was unable to leave the house due to being immunocompromised. The COVID-19 crisis also resulted in less support workers around to provide care, with more responsibilities falling on the Young Carer themselves.
School often acts as a form of respite for Young Carers and with all education moving online around the country, many Young Carers found that they were providing care 24/7 with less time to balance caring with their school work. On the other hand, some of our Young Carers flourished learning from home, as they were less distracted knowing that they were on hand to help out around the house more often. Teachers were gaining a new insight into their students’ lives, identifying more young people with caring roles in their classrooms with a direct view into their homes and everyday lives. Without school to go to, we found that Young Carers were losing an important layer of support and there was a higher risk of them becoming disconnected from schooling and future opportunities. With heightened levels of unemployment and financial stress, caring families who were already facing financial disadvantage found themselves on harder times than usual and without school meals, many Young Carers were struggling to get the food they needed.
Our team experienced a 155% increase year on year in requests for support in the period from March to September, at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Funding opportunities however were impacted by the cancellation and/or suspension of grants as a result of economic uncertainty caused by COVID-19. The Little Dreamers team hustled, pulled things together, launched new programs and even doubled the size of our team to meet demand and deliver supports around the country.
When I asked the team what 2020 had taught them, some of their responses included:
- To spend my time wisely, slow down, be okay with saying ‘no’ and to know my self worth.
- That the only way to grow through something is to go through it, there is always a silver lining.
- Learning to enjoy the simple things – walking the dog, the fresh air, good food, friends and family.
- That life is about the process, and not just the results. Slow down and enjoy it!
- That everyone can actually cook great food at home.
For me, 2020 has taught me that there’s lots that I can’t control, and that I shouldn’t focus my energy on things that I can’t do anything about (namely, a global pandemic).
There was lots that I was meant to do this year, a never ending stream of bucket list items, Little Dreamers experiences and new opportunities that I wanted to take up. Instead, I learnt how precious my time is, how special energy is and how to make the best of a crappy situation.
I am aware that I am one of the lucky ones. I had a roof over my head, food on the table, I was able to continue my studies online and I held a very secure job throughout the year. In a year of insecurities, working with one of our country’s most vulnerable groups of young people, I heard stories each day of financial disadvantage, educational challenges and lack of access to technology, making the COVID-19 pandemic more isolating.
A common phrase this year was that we’re all in this together. And while that’s true, we’re definitely not all in the same boat, simply in the same storm. Some of us have yachts, some are clinging to driftwood with our kids using floaties to get by.
I am more passionate than ever before that Young Carers deserve the same quality of life as every other young person. This is why we do what we do.
Thank you for your ongoing support (and in particular, throughout the mammoth year that has been 2020). Every like, comment, share, donation, Dream Experience, email and phone call results in a happy dance (usually from me!) knowing that we have impacted someone’s life, reached someone new and opened up a conversation about young people in caring roles.
May 2021 be a year filled with good health, great people and incredible food.