There are around 31o,000 carers in NI with an estimated 98,000 extra since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Before lockdown restrictions commenced, almost 4% of carers in NI were young carers.
The Regional Young Carers’ Service in Northern Ireland, funded by the Health and Social Care Board, is provided by Action for Children and Barnardo’s and delivers support, information and guidance to carers aged from 8 – 18 years old.
Young carers are children and young people who may help to look after a relative with a disability, illness, mental health condition or drug and alcohol related problem. They carry out lots of extra jobs in and around the house such as cooking, cleaning or helping a family member get dressed and move around their home.
Speaking during Carers Week, Marie Roulston, Director of Social Care and Children with the Health and Social Care Board said:
“Carers Week provides an opportunity for me to personally pay tribute to our young carers who carry out a vital role looking after their loved ones especially during the current pandemic which has been challenging for us all.
“Due to Coronavirus, many young people have found their caring role has increased. The Young Carers Service continues to process referrals and offers 1-1 support whilst maintaining social distancing protocols and maximising the use of on line resources.
“The HSCB is committed to ensuring continued oversight of the paramount role the Regional Young Carers’ Service plays and we will continue to listen to the needs of young carers and provide the support they need during this difficult time.
“As a result of their caring responsibilities young carers may miss out on their education, feel marginalised and struggle to fully enjoy their childhood. Funding from HSCB allows Action for Children and Barnardo’s to provide these young carers with specialist support services and provide useful information, training, short breaks and group support.
Commenting on the benefits of the regional young carers service, Dougie Tyler, Barnardo’s Children’s Services Manager said:
“The Young Carers Service is a lifeline to young people who are in a caring role and significantly impacted by that role. The service is now long established and is the “go to” service for many agencies including HSC Trusts for young carers.
“The connection between young people being in a caring role on the one hand and isolation, educational underachievement and poor mental health on the other is well-established, but complex.
“The service and its experienced team members are conversant with this and help young carers gain some understanding of this through both individual therapeutic work as well as the facilitation of peer support. Time and again the feedback from young carers and their families is how much the service means to them.
“Never has that point been so strongly made as during this period of lockdown where, for many young carers, the staff team are their only remaining advocate and source of support. The team have drawn on their experience, intuition, existing relationships and – most recently – creativity to reach out, engage and support young carers. Some young carers are the sole link between vulnerable parents who are ‘shielding’ and the outside world.
“HSCB funding ensures that the team are there to support young carers and ensure that their caring role does not strip them of their childhood and to draw in other supports when needed in times of crisis,” he said.
Jennifer Hamilton, Manager of the Young Carers’ Service with Action For Children added: “Over the last 12 months Action for Children has worked with over 400 young carers who all care for a parent or sibling with a health issue. The young carers have really benefited from fun activities away from their caring role, therapeutic group work and one to ones with their key worker.
“Being a young carer can have an impact on a young person’s social life, education, health and relationships, but can also bring positives as the young people feel valued and love the person they care for. It is fantastic the Health and Social Care Board continue to understand the important role these young people play in caring for loved one and recognise they deserve a service completely tailored to meet their needs.
Demi-Leigh, an 18 year old, said: “Being with young carers made me so much happier and it helped with my mental health. The trips helped me try new things such as rollerblading. I made so many friends though young carers. I have met some of the closest people in my life with Young Carers. When I was in school they listened to my experience of being a young carer. The trips also helped with the stress that comes with being a young carer. The staff are so helpful and kind and they can brighten your day just with one conversation.”
If you are a young carer and would like to learn more about the Regional Young Carers’ Services get in touch with your local service as follows: