On the eve of Young Carers Awareness Day, Jacqui Morley looks at the real cost of ‘unpaid’ care provided by youngsters and talks to young carers about what they would like to change
National Young Carers Awareness Day on January 28 can’t come a moment too soon for hundreds of young carers in Blackpool who want a better start, fairer deal and brighter future.
Many take on caring responsibilities normally expected of an adult to cope with a loved one’s illness, disability, mental health or substance misuse.
These include practical tasks, physical care, and personal care, financial and emotional support – so anything and everything from cooking and cleaning to changing beds, meds, applying dressings, assisting parents to bathroom and to bed – and looking after younger kids.
Many keep mum about it for fear of upsetting loved ones or being considered ‘different’ at school or college.
Carers Trust Fylde Coast is already directly involved with 380 young carers and in contact with 300 more. Circumstances vary with the nature of the illness, disability or issue, the level and frequency of the need for care.
The Blackpool carers’ charity estimates there could be 3,200 other young carers in town, some hidden because of what they, or parents, see as the stigma of substance misuse or mental health issues.
Adults tend to fill in official forms – such as the last census which revealed there were at least 16,300 carers of all ages in Blackpool (the charity has 4,000 on its books) in 2011, 1,340 under the age of 24.
Some parents won’t admit their kids look after them, or ensure younger brothers and sisters get to school or bed on time, do homework, have showers, clean clothes and a full tummy.
Tiredness and inattention at school are two of the tell tale signs of a young carer.
Referrals are likely to climb as a result of faster identification and assessment imposed by care reforms.
Earlier intervention should equal better outcomes but it all happens against a backdrop of public spending cutbacks and charities chasing the same pots of cash.
Thursday’s theme day, the second of its kind, aims to set social media alight with mass synchronised tweets and posts and hash tags #YCAD and #emptychair to show young carers miss out on so much others take for granted.
The Blackpool charity will lead from the front. Young carers are talking to other young people to spread the word. Charity operations chief Nigel McMurdo and young carers champion Camilla Ball and others will address an assembly of local schools to encourage staff support.
CTFC chief executive Michelle Smith will join a national media panel of experts fronting broadcasts.
The charity hosts its own ball for 500 guests at the De Vere Hotel on Saturday, January 30, to raise funds for the 3in5 campaign to open a new carers’ centre.
It offers support and services for young and young adult carers.
Crucially, the charity’s family focus team reach the most socially excluded – helping young carers by helping their families.
The charity also helped pioneer young carers champions, the first appointed in 2010 with funding from the Rank Foundation. Last year’s champion and this year’s have been funded by the charity’s annual corporate cash quest for carers.
The champions fight the corner for young carers – and the ripple effect is spreading.
Former champion Lauren Codling, 21, now leads on partnerships to boost support and funds. Another former champion is a family project worker.
One co-ordinates young carers activities - a post funded by Children in Need which recently revisited the centre to chat to young carers attending the weekly youth club.
Erin, seven, no surname by request, told them she helps care for her two autistic brothers. She says the club has made her ‘lots of friends’.
“Only one boy at school understands what it’s like because he’s the same. He doesn’t come here.”
Erin’s dad, who works shifts, says the family would struggle without Erin’s help.
“It’s not just some chores for pocket money but a very real contribution to the household,” he explains.
“The youth club gives Erin time to be herself, she deserves it; they all do. They probably all miss out because of the situation at home.”
Tara Bragg, 21, looks after her sisters Samantha, 28, and Jodie, 18. Samantha has Down Syndrome and Jodie other health issues.
Tara admits: “I started pretty young. It’s easy to lose yourself. It’s important to get help. The charity’s been great. You have to believe in yourself and not feel guilty for wanting some time out.
“And if you’re not a carer you shouldn’t make judgements on those who are – you have no idea of what they may go through.”
Louise Poyner, 17 next month, helps out at youth club with mum Sarah, 43. The Claremont club is attended by young carers including Louise’s sisters Lily, nine next month, and Katie, 12.
Louise says: “Being a carer means a lot to me; it has made me a better person, more confident. I help my mum with jobs around the house and do things for dad – even just chatting to him keeps him going.
“I’d like people to understand what a carer is – which is NOT a paid one who looks after the elderly or infirm.
“When I tell people I am a young carer they say to me ‘what does that mean?’ and this really winds me up.
“They don’t even get it when I try to explain. I think everyone should know -because there are a lot more carers out there not getting the help and support they need.”
Sister Katie agrees. “Schools especially need to know about Blackpool carers so young people will have support. It’s a big issue.”
Their father Chris, 42, a former builder, had a stroke in September 2010 from which he was recovering - until he had a heart attack in February 2011.
Wife Sarah explains: “I felt guilty at leaving the girls with family but I didn’t want to leave his side. The girls did really well and helped lots when he came home and have done ever since as other health problems have arisen.
“They continue to support us without hesitation. We are a very strong family and it has brought us closer.
“Chris says our support means everything. He realises he needs to be here for the girls and me and he wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for our continued care, love and support.
“He’s immensely grateful and deeply indebted for everything we do.
“The girls keep me going when I get upset.
“I help out when I can at the youth club to give something back for all the support the carers’ centre has given us.”
Hazel Hall, 19, started caring for her autistic brother, now 15, when she was 10.
“He means the world to me. I didn’t know I was a carer until I met Nigel (McMurdo) from the charity at my primary school. He was amazing, really easy to talk to.
“I hope more schools support the campaign. If they say they haven’t got young carers they’re not looking hard enough.
“I’m proud to be a carer; it’s made me more confident, I don’t get upset about petty things, I’m into drama, music, performing. I’m a student ambassador. But I’ve faced a lot.”
Hazel is studying BTEC level two Business at college. “I’d love to change the way the charity is funded so it doesn’t have to fight for grants all the time.
“Carers contribute so much yet get so little.”
Current young carers champion Camilla Ball, 21, sets her sights on two goals. “I would like the right to information about what is happening with a person I care for – from doctors, hospitals.
“I would like every education professional and any establishment working with young people to be aware and know what to do when they come across young carer – refer them to our service.
“Here are people who do actually care about their best interests.”
Charity chief Michelle concludes: “Carers are the most cost effective social care workforce there is – they’re unpaid. They save the local economy more than £334m (in terms of saved care costs, hospital admissions, GP visits and more).
“The figure is based on University of Sheffield and Carers UK research equating the national saving at £132bn a year. In Blackpool, with 16,319 carers identified in the last census it breaks down to £20,491 per carer. Yet the very word ‘carer’ itself is a barrier to greater awareness. That must change.”