Happy Carers Week, and welcome to my favourite week of the year. This week is a great reminder to shout all about Young Carers from the rooftops, and a reminder to tell those in our lives who are Carers just how much we appreciate them.
In January this year, I was sitting in a beautiful house on the Mornington Peninsula on one of our Big Dreamers retreats. In the living room with 12 Young Carers and our four incredible Team Leaders, we went around the room and spoke frankly about our caring role. We discussed the illnesses, disabilities and mental illnesses that have played a role in our family and what our experiences have been like growing up. There were countless diagnoses, a wide range of ages and varied caring roles, but we all had one thing in common. We knew what it was like to grow up providing care for a loved one.
I remember calling my Mum after the discussion had ended. I cried and told her how the young people in the room had just spoken about their caring roles in a way that I only wished I had known how to do when I was their age. Mum mentioned that we had created that safe space and opportunity for them and I cried some more. Little Dreamers is a powerful, grassroots organisation creating real, significant impact in the lives of Young Carers around the country and I am so incredibly proud of the young people we support, our volunteers, Board of Directors and incredible team of staff who are driving this with their passion, elbow grease and kindness.
We all know the statistics – there are 2 to 3 Young Carers in every classroom , Young Carers are less likely to complete or do well in secondary school than their non-caring peers , 2 in 3 Young Carers experience mental health challenges  and 66% of Young Carers are feeling more stressed since COVID-19 reared its ugly head . But what these statistics don’t tell us, is about the individuals who make up the hundreds of thousands of Young Carers around our country.
Meet Ethan. Ethan is 11 years old and loves to play sport – cricket, footy, soccer and basketball. He plays in his local cricket and footy teams, learns Hebrew after school and his favourite subjects are maths and sport. Ethan is also a Young Carer for his sister Evie, who has Autism. When Ethan grows up, his dream is to be play AFL football!
Hannah is 18 years old and creative in every aspect of her life – painting, writing, makeup and theatre. While she doesn’t know exactly what path she wants to take in life, she knows her dream job will involve helping people. Hannah has grown up as a Young Carer for her mum who has had Bipolar Disorder since before she was born. She also cares for her young brother, who has Autism and ADHD.
Ilija is 13 years old and describes himself as friendly, caring, thoughtful and shy. He loves the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne Storm, is a part of a drumming group and volunteers for the CFA in his spare time. Ilija is also a Young Carer for his little sister Nakita who has Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder and a Severe Phonological Speech Sound Disorder. As part of his caring role, Ilija tries to support his mum a lot because she doesn’t have much time to stop and look after herself.
While many Young Carers emphasise how positive their caring experience is, research indicates that where a Young Carer is inadequately supported there is increased strain on their health, wellbeing and education . Social isolation, loneliness and financial hardship often sit alongside increased maturity, independence, compassion, resilience and empathy, making Young Carers, a vulnerable group of young people in our community, harder to identify and easier to overlook.
This Carers Week, my one request to you is to open a conversation about caring. Discuss your caring role, chat to someone who you know has a caring role in their family and ask them how they are doing. Talk to those around you about the prevalence of Young Carers and the amazing stories you have come across through Little Dreamers. The more conversation, the more awareness, the more identification, thus the more support.
Looking for a great place to start? We’ve created a new, interactive quiz to share some of the stories of Young Carers who we support, called A Young Carer Like You. Take the quick personality quiz and be matched with a Young Carer, read their profile and learn a bit more about them. Want to do even more? We’re always looking for volunteers and we’ve just relaunched our regular giving program, Big Givers.
But the best thing you can do right now costs no time or money at all – talk about Young Carers and change lives. It’s that easy.
By Madeleine Buchner OAM
 Connolly, H. (2020). Take Care — What can be done at school to support children and young people with caring responsibilities at home. Commissioner for Children and Young People, South Australia.
 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020). Australia’s children. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/australias-children
 McAndrew, S., Warne, T., Fallon, D., & Moran, P. (2012). Young, gifted, and caring: A project narrative of young carers, their mental health, and getting them involved in education, research and practice. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 21(1), 12-19.
 Carers Trust. (2020). My Future, My feelings, My Family. Retrieved from: https://carers.org/what-we-do/our-survey-on-the-impact-of-coronavirus-on-young-carers-and-young-adult-carers-
 Connolly, (2020). Take Care.