Spurgeons’ Birmingham Young Carers group received national recognition as a finalist at this year’s Children & Young People Awards, in London. Spurgeons works with nearly 600 young carers across the West Midlands. These are young people with a maturity beyond their years… like Mya who, as she turns 18, is set to leave the service
During her upbringing in East Birmingham, Mya never used to think of herself as a ‘young carer’. From the age of five, Mya didn’t even realise she was ‘caring’; she just thought she was helping her Dad, Jeremy, a disabled single parent, with the basics of washing clothes, going to the shops and generally getting him around.
As she got older, Mya took on more and more of a caring role for Dad. While her father, a wheelchair user, has a carer to help him with personal washing and dressing, Mya routinely ensures that he’s taking all his medication, she house cleans, washes the dishes, cooks, gets her Dad in and out of the house and to his hospital appointments, goes to get money from the cashpoint for him and regularly checks to make sure he’s all right.
Mya’s Dad is a double amputee (he lost his first leg when Mya was five) as a consequence of his Type 2 diabetes. He is blind in one eye and has a heart condition. He also lives with depression.
Yet, despite these difficulties, he brought Mya up on his own: “We’re very close and we’ve always been there for each other,” says Mya.
“Since I was little, my Dad has done everything for me and always taught me the importance of good manners and courtesy, despite all our hardships.
“Yet he tells me: ‘If it weren’t for you, I don’t know where I’d be… you’re my light at the end of the tunnel.”
While her Dad encourages Mya to go out and spend time with her friends, she knows that if he calls, she’ll have to return home to see to him; she’s very much aware that if she doesn’t look after him, no-one else will.
Like so many young carers, Mya shows great maturity for a teenager. She explains how she needed to “grow up very quickly” while having to communicate with medical professionals and rooms of adults about Dad’s care, doing her own research on his condition and adapting to his changing needs.
Spurgeons ‘like a family’
Being part of Spurgeons’ Birmingham Young Carers group has, says Mya, played a key part in her maturity. She’s been going to the group since she was 6-years-old, so it’s maybe no surprise to hear her describe Spurgeons as being “like a family” – she’s known some members of the team, people like Ruth Geoghegan and Bina Lad for example, for 12 years.
“Spurgeons are my young carer family and the people there, like Ruth and Bina and the other young carers, have saved my life: they’ve been brilliant, both at our regular sessions and on some fantastic family trips, like when we go to the cinema and sometimes to the seaside.
“They’ve helped me when I’ve been struggling; like the way they supported me when I was being bullied at school, for example, helping me to learn coping strategies and making me feel that I wasn’t alone, that I could overcome the bullies.
“I look back at when I first started to go to Spurgeons and I was so shy – a long way from the confident person, actually the chatterbox, that I’ve become. They’ve done so much for me growing up. I’d really urge any young carer to get in touch with a young carers’ group.”
Mya says she’ll continue to be part of the group until the summer but likes the idea of returning to help the younger carers as a volunteer. Beyond that she hopes her current studies at a local college might take her into a career in hospitality or some kind of people-facing role, and maybe even to University.
In the meantime, Mya will look to tap into the extended Young Adult Carers Service developed by the Birmingham Carers Hub in partnership with YMCA Sutton Coldfield, supported by Spurgeons, for carers aged 18-25.
Whatever Mya decides to do, somehow you sense she’ll take things in her stride, making her Dad – and Spurgeons – very proud.