Time to give young carers a break - Paul Carberry

For many young people the summer holidays represent the chance to create lasting memories with friends, however, for young carers, it can be a lonely period as they face extra hours at home looking after a family member.

Action for Children’s Young Carers service addresses this issue by giving the young people a break from their caring responsibilities so they can have the kind of positive experiences that will shape their lives going forward.

A young carer is someone who is aged between around eight to 18 years-old who is responsible for looking after a family member who may be disabled, ill, battling addiction or suffering from a mental health condition. It’s a situation that so many young people find themselves in and is far more common than you may be aware with more than 29,000 young people in Scotland acting as a carer.

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As you can imagine, the responsibilities these young people have are wide and varied. They will be tasked with things like physical and emotional care, giving medicine, cooking, housework, shopping, looking after brothers and sisters and so much more.

The Scottish Young Carers Festival was this year held at Fordell Firs in Fife in early August.
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Action for Children unearthed the extent to which this can impact their lives with research we conducted in 2020 revealing they spend on average 25 hours a week caring for loved ones. This not only impacts their education and subsequent life chances, it prevents them from making friends and having the experiences that are so important to their social and emotional development.

Naturally, young carers develop incredible skills through their role which can be useful in many contexts later in life, however, the trade-off for this is a home life which can be very isolating and stressful. Further complicating matters is the fact that many of them do not recognise themselves as young carers and are unaware that help is available.

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By working in partnership with schools and social work, Action for Children is able to identify and provide support so they can balance their responsibilities with positive and fun experiences. The staff at our North and South Lanarkshire services work with young carers, teaching them how to cope, guiding them to build positive relationships outside the family and helping them plan for the future.

Short and residential breaks are a core component of the emotional and practical support we are able to provide for the young people. We recently sent a group on a three-night stay at Dumfries House in Ayrshire and another group had a two-night stay in Bristol.

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These trips not only give them the chance to enjoy the facilities and trips to the cinema and restaurants, they also provide an environment for them to talk about coping strategies and for staff to provide support that will help ease the pressures of their daily routines.

Fun daily experiences are equally as important as the counselling sessions and involve excursions to outdoor adventure experiences like Go Ape and concerts to see the likes of Ed Sheeran.

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This summer we also took over 200 young carers to the Scottish Young Carers Festival at Fordell Firs in Fife for three nights in early August. The annual festival gives them a fun break from their responsibilities as well as the chance to meet other young carers and take part in consultation.

Action for Children’s Young Carers services are not only dedicated to providing support to these remarkable young people but celebrating them and their achievements. It’s crucial they are able to have the kind of positive experiences their peers enjoy and I hope by raising awareness of what they do and the pressures they face we can all better acknowledge how incredible they are.

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Paul Carberry, Action for Children Director

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