A recent BBC Sounds documentary explored the lives of young carers. Kids Who Care, presented by Oritse Williams of the boy band JLS, spoke to children who care for unwell family members.
Experts estimate that 1 in 10 children in the UK take care of a loved one. For young people who are carers, life presents responsibility and stress that exceeds their age.
Lucy is 16 and her mum has early onset arthritis.
‘It changes your priorities a lot,’ she says. ‘Schoolwork- which should be the priority- has to take a backseat on certain days. And then with friends, I like to go out but it makes me more anxious to do it because I’m always preoccupied with how my mum is or if she needs me to look after my brother.’
Lucy does housework, cleans, assists with the shopping and even helps her mother in and out of the shower. She finds that life as a carer causes her problems socially. ‘I don’t think my friends understand that caring is a full-time thing,’ she says. ‘Even when you’re away from home, you’re still thinking about what’s going on at home. I was walking home from school and I saw an ambulance turn down our road and I was absolutely terrified that it was for mum.’
Jordan is a carer for his mum and his 9 year old sister.
‘My mum had a stroke in 2019, and in the past she’s been through a lot of trauma with family and my dad,’ he says. ‘At any moment I don’t know if she’s sick- it’s a fear of her having another stroke or blood problems because she’s got bad circulation.’
Jordan struggles mentally with anxiety over his mother’s health. ‘I’ll be in school and I’ll have random thoughts about if she is going to have a stroke again,’ he says. ‘The last time she had a stroke was in the middle of the night and I was the only one in the house. I had to call the ambulance and make sure she was in the recovery position in the meantime. That past trauma is in my head so I don’t even sleep properly now.’
Young carers have had no training in caring for others- such as administering medication- adding another layer of difficulty to their lives. Making friends and finding their place in their peer group is also tough.
‘I’m not really allowed to go out,’ Jordan says. ‘Mum’s always saying I should be near but say if I go out with some friends, I’m on the other side of town and she’s not alright… It’s awkward when I see everyone else having fun and I’m inside the house. It’s annoying but at the same time I can’t voice any of this because I’m helping my mum.’
Tragically, Jordan has lost many of the years he could have spent growing up to being a young carer. ‘I feel like I’ve missed out on my childhood,’ he says. ‘It’s all gone, I’m 15 now and I feel like I’m already a grown man in a child’s body.’
You can listen to the full podcast here.