Written by Kylie Barton, Young Carers Volunteer
This is a tricky question and one that is constantly raised within the project here at One Community Young Carers. So I thought it would be good to explore it a little…
The NHS define a young carer as: ‘Someone aged 18 or under who helps look after a relative who has a condition, such as a disability, illness, mental health condition, or a drug or alcohol problem.’
At One Community we look at a variety of issues within our referral process. The young people we currently work with are aged 8-18 who may care for a parent, guardian, sibling, or grandparent who has an illness, disability, mental health or substance misuse problem. We look at what the young person does, how their school and social lives are affected, who else is around to support the family, and what impact it is having on the young person’s own health and well-being.
There are times however, we have enquiries from parents, schools, or other organisations that may currently be working with a young person, which make us question our definition…
Young people below 8 or over 18
Somewhat alarmingly, we have had a number of calls with people enquiring if we are able to support those under 8 years old that are in a caring role. It is certainly unsettling to think that a child younger than 8 would be in such a position, but sadly it seems that this is the case for many families who simply do not have the support they need from other sources. At present, our funding is for those aged 8-18, and so we are unable to offer support in these situations. Supporting such young, young carers would be a different task for the team here, and we would need to assess what kind of support and activities would be most appropriate. With the times we live in, and with increasing cuts to services, I think it is important that we all remember that children can be in a caring role at any age, and we need to find a way to support them.
We have a similar conundrum with the over 18’s. These young people all of a sudden find themselves no longer classified as ‘young carers’ as they are now seen as adults in the eyes of the law. It can be tricky after accessing a project as a youngster to move on to adult based services after building up a peer support network of your own within a young carers project. Some young carers’ projects have specific support for 18-24 year olds to do with employment, education, and helping them to find adult carers support. This is something we may look into in the future here at One Community, to help them transition to our adult carers service.
Young people living with transitioning transgender/transsexual relatives
We have had one call on this matter relating to a young person whose parent was transitioning and it caused some debate. It was thought that this certainly is a little outside of what we traditionally think of as a young carer, but there are a number of reasons any young person in this situation may need to be included.
Transitioning from one gender to another is no simple process. The transition itself can take many years, and often comes with some emotional well-being issues for the person transitioning and those around them. Trans people are statistically more likely to suffer from poor mental health and are more likely to turn to substance misuse. As well as the emotional side of things, there is the physical transformation through use of hormones and surgeries which may result in the person transitioning being cared for.
Transphobia is unfortunately still very much a thing. Young people with Trans relatives are likely to experience bullying, harassment and isolation in a similar way to a young person with a disabled or mentally unwell parent. There were concerns that including these young people would ‘dilute’ what young carers projects are about, but at the end of the day trans people do not have a choice in the same way someone with depression cannot just switch it off, or someone who uses a wheelchair cannot just decide to walk again.
Young people who are experiencing domestic abuse in the home
Domestic abuse can happen to you, or around you – both of which are shown to be damaging to the mental health and wellbeing of people at all ages (from foetus to the elderly). In research completed by One Community the damaging effects of growing up in a domestic abuse household were explored, and the question of if young people in this situation are in fact young carers raised.
Where one parent is experiencing abuse, more often than not the young person ends up caring for the abused. They are afraid to leave them and go to school, they deal with the fallout from the emotional abuse, tend to any wounds caused by physical abuse, are collateral damage in any financial abuse, and may too be affected by any known sexual abuse. A domestic abuse victim or perpetrator in the home may not have a mental health diagnosis, but this doesn’t mean the caring isn’t happening.
So what do to?
As with all things in the voluntary sector, we must keep an open mind at every turn, and try to see things from all possible angles. This means challenging ourselves and our definitions when we are presented with a potentially vulnerable young person who needs support that doesn’t fit neatly into our boxes.
If you know of a young person needing support please get in contact with the team.