Census data identifies 173,000 young carers in the UK (2016), though BBC research projects up to 700,000, or 3 times as many, have caring needs that are yet to be identified.
These young people are caring for a family member with an illness or disability. They have to grow up too fast – the need to balance their caring responsibilities with school leaves them little time to have fun with their friends.
”It has made me mature, but it has taken away my childhood”
Take 16-year-old Chloe, from Birmingham. She is carer to her younger brother and sister and to her mum who has mental health issues. ”I do medication for my mum. I do housework. With my younger brother and sister, I do their breakfast and get them ready for school,” she says. ”It has made me mature, but it has taken away my childhood.” Chloe belongs to Spurgeons’ Young Carers network. Through it, she and around 800 other young people aged from as young as 5 up to 19 can access a wide range of advice, mentoring and practical help with their family and school needs, and time out to relax and be themselves through groups, residentials and other activities.
Spurgeons’ Jackie Benton who managed the Young Carers programme in Birmingham says, ”Life has thrown so much at these young people, but they are remarkably resilient and capable and have so much potential. We want them to have a voice, to shape what we do.
”So last year we brought together six teenage carers to form a committee, the Young Carers Voice Panel. They share their own opinions and also ask for feedback from others in the network, through interview panels, social media and the Young Carer events and activities.”
In August 2019, the Young Carers Voice Panel, of which Chloe is a member, took on their biggest challenge yet – they planned and managed a three-day residential break for around forty young carers in the network.
Lizzie Wentworth, one of the staff involved, says, ”They organised and presented a quiz, chose the winner, set up and packed down – they did it all! They also put together a presentation to the young carers, Chloe was desperate to be one of the presenters, but she was sick with nerves. But when it came to it, she was brilliant. She could control the audience, she engaged them, she came across as confident and competent.”
‘I have gained skills that I will need throughout my whole life”
Chloe appreciates the value of being on the Committee. ”I have gained skills that I will need throughout my whole life,” she says, ”I’m able to speak my ideas and look into situations and make decisions. Most importantly I have gained friends that are for life.
”I keep in contact every day with people from the committee and I have a bond that will never be broken, thanks to Spurgeons and being on the Young Carer Voice Panel.”
About Spurgeons Young Carers Services:
Spurgeons delivers support to young people up to the age of 18 who are caring for a family member with an illness or disability in the West Midlands through our Birmingham Young Carers and Wolverhampton Young Carers services.
The Birmingham Young Carers service was a finalist in two categories at the 2019 Children and Young People Now Awards in the PSHE Education Award and the Young Carers Award for its particular focus on supporting young carers looking after a parent with a drug or alcohol dependency.
To learn more about our work with Young Carers, click here.