Being a Young Carer is, more often that not, a pretty challenging role.
At any age, caring responsibilities can a have significant impact on an individual. For a young person navigating the challenges of growing up, having a caring role can affect their ability to engage in education and employment, increase financial hardship and social isolation, and induce a fear of stigma and bullying.
That’s a lot for anyone to take on.
In fact, in 2016, the Australian Child Wellbeing Project named Young Carers one of the four most at-risk groups of young people in Australia (Redmond and Skattebol et al, 2016).
The definition of a Young Carer is broad and exists on a spectrum. A young person might be born into a family in which taking on a caring role is immediate, whilst others may be required to transition into a caring role later in their life. Caring roles are also unique across households; where one’s caring role may only be present episodically, others can be constant in everyday life and manifest differently day to day.
And whilst carers often take on typical household chores as a part of their caring role, it is the multifaceted nature of a caring role – the physical and the emotional investment – that differentiates young people with caring roles from their non-caring peers.
The Benefits of Being a Young Carer
Last year, we travelled around Australia to speak to Young Carers from a diverse range of backgrounds, circumstances and experiences. What we found was that whilst the majority (51%) of these young people saw their caring role as having a moderate to major impact on their sense of identity and overall lifestyle, most of them didn’t view this as an inherently negative thing.
It’s estimated one in 10 children in Australia provide care for a family member affected by disability, chronic or mental illness, addiction or frail age (Hamilton & Redmond, 2019; Noble-Carr, 2002; Warren & Edwards, 2016).
These Young Carers grow up practicing patience, compassion, resilience, empathy and maturity in their day to day lives. They can instinctively sense and respond to pain, discomfort, or distress, and often they become an invaluable advocate for their loved one.
“Young Carers are an essential part of our community, they do so much work to support so many different people who require care. They develop incredible skills doing such work. So not only are they currently contributing to the community in massive ways, they have massive potential to contribute.” Female Young Carer, 21, NSW
Young Carers expressed over and over in our focus groups the impact of their caring role on their familial bond – many felt their caring role has tied them to their family in a special way, and that they wouldn’t trade this for the world.
They also consistently expressed that the skills they had learnt in their caring roles had informed their passions and assisted them in their career progression. Like Young Carer, Heidi, who is 17 years old and studying to become a nurse. “My caring role has shaped the person that I have become today, and pushed me towards a life in the medical field.”
The Current Gap
Despite these benefits, it’s hard to ignore the reality – Young Carers more often that not go under-recognised and unsupported. Their learned skills and life experience beginning at a young age, when nurtured and supported, have the potential to change the world. It’s time we recognised and encouraged this.
“Experience is very diverse. There’s not a one size fits all program that works. There needs to be a system where individual needs are met.” Female Young Carer, 18, VIC
Young Carers also remain disproportionately impacted based on factors including socio-economic status, gender, religion, background and geographic location. The intersectionality of caring roles is inevitable, and it’s part of the reason why Young Carers experience disadvantage.
For example, those caring within culturally and linguistically diverse households are impacted in accessing services due to a potential lack of understanding of which services are available to them. Within these households, reports have shown a notable reluctance to voluntarily access both hospital and community-based mental health services. This lower level of service is not due to lack of need but rather to difficulties in accessing mainstream systems of care and lack of access to services that are culturally appropriate (Riggs, et al., 2012).
Adequate Young Carer support will not be solved with a one size fits all answer, as the specific challenges of each Young Carer should be taken into consideration when addressing support needs.
Our final Young Carer Advocacy Project Recommendations report details the current support for Young Carers, best practice offerings, primary research conducted as part of this project and the subsequent four recommendations addressing the vital need for increased Young Carer support and recognition across Australia.
To read our full recommendations report which delves further into the research and findings presented in this blog, head to: bit.ly/ycap-report.