How should Croydon support its young carers?

By - Monday 31st October, 2016

There are over 300 registered young carers in Croydon, and the likely real figure is much higher

I’m pleased to say that Croydon has made commitments to members of its community who have caring responsibilities, in particular its young carers. The council published a carers strategy in 2008, setting out a number of provisions and steps for their needs and requirements.

The intention is to ensure more awareness of carers’ issues in schools, by way of a government e-learning module for teachers, to to make sure that there is a young carers’ register and a representative for these children. Funding for young carers’ breaks from their duties has already provided financial support to thirteen families. Croydon Council has also put into effect the ‘Working together to support young carers’ memorandum, with educational support from primary to higher education and also an intention to help young carers between the ages of sixteen to twenty-five plan for their future education and career prospects.

I was heartened to see so much support for young carers in Croydon, Off The Record’s Young Carers’ Project is a free service supporting young people between the ages of 7-25 who are based in the borough. The project works with London and Quadrant Housing Association ( L&Q Young Carers) on a project with other boroughs as well as in schools to identify and to connect young carers with appropriate support while they are in education. The project aims to reduce the isolation that they may encounter.

Young carers may fear that the family unit will be split if anyone finds out

Off The Record Young Carers Project currently has 585 young Croydon carers aged between 7-25 registered: 245 are over 18, leaving 335 below that age. The last national census and research done at the BBC in 2010 indicates there could be another 2,800 in the borough.

It is natural that what first comes to mind when you envisage the word carer, is an adult supporting another adult. It is a commitment that cannot be taken lightly, so I could not imagine how young people manage such responsibilities. Caring roles vary from coping with physical disability to mental health concerns, long term illnesses and even literacy issues.

The term ‘hidden carers’ is not just associated with carers who do not recognise their role and therefore struggling without support but is also a term for the very young carers. Not all children in such a position will openly discuss it unless they have to and there may be a number of reasons for this. A parental role is clearly defined as providing, nurturing, protecting and giving care and to find there is a shift in responsibility can be disheartening. Added to that may be a fear of assumptions being made that a loved parent is being deliberately neglectful, or even apprehension that the family may be split if anyone finds out.

The term ‘caring’ is a broad one. Responsibilities can be as small as combing hair, helping with the shopping and light chores at home and as extensive as bathing a sibling, cooking meals, managing finances and paperwork. The caring role may not just be for an adult (usually a parent), and could also include looking after siblings who have a disability. All this is done while attempting to maintain attendance and grades at school. It is a formidable undertaking for a child to take on the role of an adult and to switch from the usual ‘dependent’ role into that of being a carer. It will come as no surprise that isolation is a one of the key experiences of young carers. Peers and friends are unlikely to be in the same boat as they are.

I would like to see bursaries and special educational support for young carers

Terminology can be a challenge in forming society’s views of caring. When I have stated in the past that I was a carer, I realised that it did not always sink in for listeners what the term really meant and its implications for me. Staying at home to raise children requires work, keeping a household together is work, caring for another with a disability is work. We would not send children out for full time employment, yet child and sibling carers work in just the same way.

It is important to have a happy medium that works for the children who find themselves as carers and the rest of the family. Accessing support and giving confidence is vital. Outside the home, more consideration and awareness within educational establishments would prove most helpful, for example special bursaries for further and higher education. Just as important for those who are being cared for is to take steps to ensure that they receive the best possible assistance from family, professionals and support groups.

Croydon’s Young Carers Project reveals that a carer can be as young as five years old. Such children need as much, if not more, protection, practical and advisory assistance as adult carers do. It is encouraging that there is more support available than ever before but the fact that the true number of our young carers is not known remains a great concern to me.

Loren Dixon

Loren Dixon

Loren is a full time carer for an adult sibling who is autistic and is a member of a Autism Family/Parent Support Group in Croydon. She also volunteers for the South London Botanical Institute when she has time and has worked in the cultural & heritage sector. After a long spell of not painting and drawing she has returned to it by finding enjoyment in a new medium to her, botanical illustration.

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    These young people are amazing. I spoke to some of them earlier this year at an event organised by Croydon Soroptimists where they got to be children again for a short while.