About Young Carers
National and international research shows that young carers rarely self-identify for a variety of reasons. They also do not respond to the term 'young carer' until after the term has been explained to them, meaning that identification can be difficult for you as a key person at school.
Young carers is a term used to identify young people who look after a family member with a disability, mental illness, chronic illness, or drug/alcohol problem. Due to their situation, young carers have extra responsibilities which will necessarily impact on their home, school and social life.
In Western Australia, there is estimated to be over 40,000 young carers under the age of 26 in both metropolitan and regional or remote areas. This means that there is likely to be at least two young carers in every classroom.
Children as young as five can take on a caring role by giving practical help to a parent, sibling, or relative in their home. They may become a young carer through someone in their family sustaining disabilities from an accident, being born with a disability, or developing a chronic illness. Alternatively, they could grow up having someone in their family with a mental illness, or drug or alcohol problem.
Each caring situation is different and every young carer helps their family in different ways.
What responsibilities do young carers have?
Young carers can have a number of responsibilities as well as day to day tasks that other young people wouldn't normally have. They vary greatly according to the disability or illness of the person being cared for and each situation is unique.
The responsibilities and roles of a young carer can include:
Personal Care and manual handling of the care recipient:
- Ensuring medication has been taken
- Mobility - for example, helping to transfer the person they care for from their wheelchair into a car
- Shopping for groceries
- Meal preparation
- House cleaning
- Laundry tasks
- Looking after other siblings
- Providing ongoing emotional support (‘being there') for the person they care for and other family members
- Being able to respond emotionally and practically in case of an emergency or health crisis
- Accompanying an adult to medical appointments
- Interpreting information for parents and other family members who might have a limited use of the English language
- Paying household bills
- Taking phone calls from social workers, health professionals and care workers
- Setting up medical, therapy, or respite appointments for the person they care for
- Applying for funding to pay for respite, or equipment needed, for the person they care for
How does this affect a young carer?
The role of caring for another person in day to day life can have both positive and negative impacts on a young person. Research has shown there to be immediate and long term effects associated with caring, some of which are outlined below.
Young carers are more likely to suffer from the negative effects of caring if they do not have the right support.
- Higher stress levels
- Higher rates of depression
- Feelings of isolation and loneliness
- Lower self esteem
- Loss of childhood
- Feeling ‘trapped' in their home life
- Nervous exhaustion
- Sleep deprivation
- Joint and back pain
- Lack of social skills
- Difficulties in having a social life outside of the home
- Being ‘mature beyond their years'
- Under or overachieving
- More likely to drop out of school due to their caring responsibilities
- Difficulty of finding employment which accommodates a caring role
When recognised and supported in their role as a young carer, young people have stated that it has had a strong, positive impact on their lives. Young carers often gain useful skills, knowledge and experiences which can help them in later life.
For more information on the impact of caring within a family, see our research page.