About young carers
Who is a young carer?
A young carer is a young person under 25 years of age who provides, or intends to provide care, assistance or support to a family member with a mental illness, physical illness, disability, chronic illness, or who is aged or has an addiction. The level and regularity of care provided is more than might be expected of a young person of a similar age or cultural affiliation. The care that young carers provide may be ongoing, time-limited or episodic.
A young carer may undertake tasks that may be physical, emotional or a combination of both. This may include for example:
- emotional support (such as listening to, talking with, reassuring and calming the person who they care for, assisting with behaviour management)
- practical tasks (such as preparing food, cleaning the house, supermarket shopping, paying bills)
- medical care (such as making appointments, taking to appointments, helping with medical equipment, buying medication and communication with health care professionals)
- personal care (such as washing, dressing, toileting)
- family support (such as looking after siblings, making school lunches, helping to get siblings ready for school and getting them to school and helping siblings with homework)
- advocacy support (such as interpreting and translating, communication support with family members and health care professionals)
Responsibilities of young carers
Whilst young carers are difficult to categorise given the diversity of this cohort and given the range of situations and contexts in which caring can occur, researchers have developed a care continuum to depict the difference between the tasks taken on by young carers and other normal childhood responsibilities.
Continuum of care
Light End: Young carers provide 0-19 hours of care per week
Routine levels and types of caregiving including some help with instrumental activities of daily living. Household tasks and caregiving tasks can be considered age and culturally appropriate for child’s age, e.g. entertaining siblings, taking out the rubbish, making beds.
Heavy End: Young carers provide 20-49 hours of care per week:
Caregiving tasks and responsibilities increase in amount, regularity, complexity, time involved, intimacy and duration, e.g. making school lunches for sibling, cooking dinner without parent support, doing grocery shopping for the household.
Very Heavy End: Young carers provide 50+ hours of care per week:
Substantial, regular and significant caregiving including considerable help with instrumental activities of daily living. Household tasks and caregiving tasks can be considered age and culturally inappropriate, e.g. measuring out and delivering medication, bathing a parent, catheter care, supporting with physical therapy.
The levels of the continuum are displayed left to right from light end to heavy end to very heavy end.
While the continuum of care provides a helpful guide to conceptualise the different levels of caring, some young carers may be episodic young carers. In some instances, carers may experience an intensive peak in caring responsibilities which may then taper off to more regular caring responsibilities.
What impact can caring responsibilities have on a young person?
Being a young carer can impact on a young person’s life in a range of ways. Many young carers emphasise that caring is a positive experience however, when inadequately supported, their own health and wellbeing can be seriously affected. Some of the negative characteristics associated with being a young carer that can impact on educational outcomes and experiences include:
- Education, training and employment:
- frequently miss school because of their caring responsibilities; they have no time to complete homework, feel worried and distracted when they are at school and experience limited connectedness with their school community
- 'at risk' of not making successful transitions into the workforce
- opportunities for the future are severely limited by the caring role. Carers are often unable to leave the family home, gain employment and/or gain financial independence
- Health and wellbeing:
- risk of poor physical health due to many factors including stress, limited sleep and inappropriate or incorrect lifting and carrying
- mental health can be affected to impaired psychosocial development, low self-esteem and unresolved feelings of fear, worry, sadness, anger, resentment and guilt
- Social participation:
- experience alienation and isolation due to the physical and emotional demands of their caring role, their families' limited income and the limited 'spare time' available to them
- less likely to have meaningful friendships due to the demands of caring, their belief that they cannot trust people and talk to them about their caring role, the social stigma and misunderstanding in the community associated with illness and disability
- Family relationships:
- relationships with other members of the family can be negatively affected and become strained
- when entering adolescence, family relationships often become more complex and difficult and can be further complicated by the caring role
- Financial security:
- carers are usually reliant on their families for financial support. The majority of these families are dependent upon inadequate social security benefits and can experience poverty.
Some of the positive impacts associated with being a young carer include:
- enhanced coping mechanisms
- the development of life, social and other skills
- increased maturity
- a sense of purpose
- closer attachments to family
Reviewed 03 November 2020