Young carers blog

Looking after mum: counselling young carers

15/06/2017

Place2Be’s Amanda shares her experience of supporting young carers and explains why it is important that their responsibilities don’t define them.

Across the UK, thousands of children and teenagers look after family members. These ‘young carers’ often have to grow up more quickly than their classmates. They can miss out on some of the things we associate with a childhood, like hanging out with friends and even going to school every day, because they’re busy at home.

Whether they’re in charge of the family finances, giving their disabled brother his medicine, or supporting an adult relative who struggles with substance abuse, taking on a caring role has an impact upon children’s everyday life and without support can end up defining their personality.

I experienced this first-hand in my role as a Place2Be School Project Manager. School staff were concerned about 10-year-old Daniel for this very reason. The eldest of four siblings, Daniel had taken on the role of carer for his mum, who had a chronic health condition. When she had a medical emergency he would call the paramedics, contact his dad (who worked nights) and look after his brothers and sisters, keeping them calm while they waited for the ambulance. As a result he was often behind with his school work and used break times to catch up. He was becoming increasingly anxious and finding it hard to maintain friendships.

When he was referred to one-to-one counselling with Place2Be, he seemed worried about his counsellor and constantly checked if she was ok. Surprised, she gently reassured him that she was able to take care of herself and gradually, they began to talk about how he was feeling.

During role play, Daniel would describe chaotic scenes. Sometimes he talked about wanting to wrap his counsellor up in a blanket and roll her beneath the bench to keep her safe. By listening to Daniel and taking part in his stories, the counsellor helped him explore the weight of his responsibilities.

Daniel did an amazing job of looking after his family and it seemed to define his personality. In school, he gravitated towards indoor clubs where he helped out younger children, much to the appreciation of staff. Not only did this feed into his image as carer, it also prevented him from getting close to anyone his age, meaning he was becoming increasingly isolated.

Because Place2Be is school-based, I was able to speak to Daniel’s teacher about the best ways to support him. We agreed that pressure would be taken off regarding homework and a time limit was put on how long he could spend catching up in the library. He was invited to join the basketball club and while he was unsure about it at first, he soon made friends and occasionally took part in matches. His teacher looked for ways to involve him in group activities and he was selected to take part in a Lego building competition which he thoroughly enjoyed.

Because of this joined-up approach, Daniel really thrived in class. He is now a confident and articulate young man who successfully made the transition to secondary school and is reaching his targets. Place2Be couldn’t ‘fix’ things or reduce Daniel’s responsibilities at home – his mum is still ill and he continues to care for her – but he is now far more able to manage the pressure.

My experience with Daniel has highlighted to me that young carers might sometimes need help being children. It’s important that they arent pigeonholed into other caring roles in school but at the same time, they need the space to express what their experience is like for them. Young carer services are available all over the UK and provide great information on how to help. They also offer opportunities for the children to get together and share their stories. We can help to ensure that being a young carer is not the only thing that defines their childhood.

Amanda is a Place2Be School Project Manager and child counsellor.

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This blog was written in a personal capacity and does not necessarily reflect the view of the organisation.

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