Caitlin’s Wish Young Carers Awareness campaign.
By Victoria Lewin
The 2011 UK census stated that there were 200,000 young carers in the UK, but subsequent research shows that this figure is inaccurate – indeed it’s just the tip of the iceberg!
Professor Saul Becker has pioneered young carers research since the 1990s, and in 2010 he worked on research with the BBC, which showed that there are approximately 700,000 children providing the highest level of care, including personal care, in the UK today.
Research from Becker also suggests that the number of young carers in the UK providing varying levels of care could actually be far greater – with close to 3 million children living with a family member who has a disability, illness, mental health condition, or a drug or alcohol problem.
That’s almost 1 in 5 children in the UK today!
Children can become carers at a very young age. You may wonder how this can happen? It’s because illness and disability can strike a family member at any time in their life, and the other family members are also affected.
Many children don’t even realise that they’re young carers. In fact, we didn’t realize it in the beginning. My husband was diagnosed with a rare brain condition (I.I.H.) when our children were only 5 years old and 2 years old. We just worked together as a team.
That kind of situation has an emotional impact on the family every single day, so even when the children were too young to help with the practical side of caring, they were still emotionally impacted by their Dad’s disability. He couldn’t cope with everyday situations anymore, due to pain and noise intolerance. The children had to learn to play quietly, and some days even a whisper was too loud! Refusing to let the illness beat us, we learned to lip read each other and would play games where the children were secret spies.
It was when my daughter started school that we first learned about young carers. Until then we had worked together so closely that caring had become part of our normal family life.
Caitlin just wanted her classmates to accept her for who she was, and to understand what her life was like as a young carer. We tried to get support for her through our local young carers project, but she was too young at the time to access anything.
So I looked for a book to help. Unable to find an appropriate book, Caitlin simply said, “Well write one! Make there be one, Mammi!” To a young child anything is possible, right?
I’d never written anything before, but her words compelled me to create something for her and, as they say, the rest is history. It helped her so much that I was urged to publish it in the hope it may help other children. That was almost 10 years ago.
My daughter has just left school, and it’s her wish that someday all young carers will be treated with the respect, compassion, and understanding that they truly deserve – no matter where they live in the world.
Caitlin’s wish has flourished since that first book, showing just how great the need is for information, advice and coping strategies to support young carers. Caitlin’s wish now covers young carer awareness, disability awareness, IIH awareness, support booklets and school resources. Plus, there are more young carers books in the pipeline.
The more I researched, the more I learned that my daughter wasn’t alone in her struggles at school. Many young carers face difficulties, and approximately 1 in 3 young carers are bullied because of their caring role!
I’m currently creating a schools’ resource to be used in PSE lessons to raise awareness of young carers, disability and the associated bullying. It’s our belief that with greater understanding comes more compassion, tolerance and a better school environment for all children.
If you give young carers the right support, then they can achieve their full potential in life.
Visit www.caitlinswish.com to download my young carers booklets for free and to find all of the tried and tested coping strategies which really worked for our family.