What’s the difference between young carers and invisible young carers? In this article we look at the contrast in the support that’s available, a real-life story of a 12 year-old boy supporting his younger siblings, and what you can do to help.
Who are young carers?
Barnardo’s states that “young carers are people under 18 who help to look after someone in their family, or a friend, who is ill, disabled or misuses drugs or alcohol.”
Someone aged 18-25 is a young adult carer.
Yet most will just think of a child helping a parent who is ill or disabled. You can see what they have to do, and you can see why they help. It is clear what the problems are that they may face.
Who are invisible young carers?
Then we have the other side, children whose parents misuse drugs or alcohol. What do you call the children who go to school late, hungry and in dirty clothes? No one has done any washing at home, no one woke them up for school, and there’s no food in the cupboard, just a couple of bottles of half drunk cheap cider.
These are the invisible young carers. These are the ones that no one really knows about. No one knows what goes on behind front doors. Are these children and young people going to tell you?
Michael’s mum was an alcoholic. She slept all day due to sitting up all night with her friends listening to loud music, smoking a mix of cigarettes and other things, drinking and getting noisier throughout the night. The house would be a constant mess: full cigarette trays, empty bottles and cans all over, a dirty heavy smell throughout the house and mum passed out on the floor.
There was no food in the kitchen for Michael (aged 12) or his little brother (10) and sister (7). Their school clothes would still be in a dirty heap on the kitchen floor. The children had been in their bedroom all night with the door closed, but the music and noise from the living room had kept them up. They had only fallen asleep once the house had emptied in the early hours of the morning.
It was down to Michael to set the alarm to try and get the 3 of them to their nan’s house down the road for breakfast before school. He would always go downstairs first to check how things were. He would walk over his mum into the kitchen grab whatever clothes he could for school and take them back upstairs. None of them would bother washing first, just get dressed and get to their nan’s, where they would have breakfast. Then Michael would walk his siblings to school before catching the bus to his school.
What does it feel like to be an invisible carer?
This is all from a real family. This is a normal everyday routine for this family. Does anyone else know what’s going on? How would they know? Would the children tell anyone? They love their mum, and this is normal life to them.
How are these children going to be affected by living like this? Many feel isolated and depressed. There is often a lack of sleep and they are often living in poverty. There are also issues around low self-confidence, missing school due to responsibilities, and of being bullied. In a survey 39% said that nobody in their school was aware of their caring role.
Do young people have rights?
Every child in the world has rights according to the United Nation Convention on the Rights of The Child (UNCRC). In Wales we also have the Rights of Children & Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011. Welsh Ministers have to show “due regard” to the UNCRC when making policies and discussions – including the views and opinions of young carers.
As well as these, a social worker from the local authority must visit to carry out a “young carers needs assessment”, which would decide what kind of help the young carer and the family may need if requested.
Organisations that can help young carers
Carers Trust Wales provides help and advice to carers of all ages. However they have two specific services for young carers: Babble is an online community for young carers under 18, while Matter is an online community for young carers aged 16-25.
There is also the Meic helpline, which provides information, advice and advocacy to children and young people in Wales.
If you’re worried about a child in your family, or someone that you know, then call the FamilyPoint helpline who can advise you on what to do next.
Family Point Helpline
If you feel you need to talk to someone about this issue or any other problems your family is having then call our advisors on the FamilyPoint Cymru helpline. The helpline is open 9am – 5pm Monday to Friday. They can help you to find organisations that can help.