Introduction

How an award-winning project gave city’s young carers a break… till the money ran out

How an award-winning project gave city’s young carers a break… till the money ran out

Timing, they say, is everything but it didn’t quite work out recently for Spurgeons’ Birmingham Young Carers group. Just before it was made a double finalist in the 2019 Children & Young People Now Awards, for an initiative targeted at young carers coping specifically with parents’ substance misuse, project funding from BBC Children in Need came to a close. Spurgeons Children’s Services Manager Jackie Benton, who heads the Birmingham group, captures what she thinks caught the judges’ imagination…

There are said to be hundreds of thousands of young carers in this country, children from as young as 5-years-old who have to care for a parent or family member. An increasing number of these young carers are looking after parents with drugs and alcohol problems. That’s why Spurgeons focused a project for its young carers group in Birmingham on providing specific help to tackle this worrying trend.

We devised a programme of local delivery workshops plus three residential stays at an outdoor centre in Malvern, Worcestershire that would give the young carers, aged 10-18, a break from their caring duties for a few days. We thought this would give them the space and freedom they needed to explore their particular challenges, while learning new skills.

Young carers can be in any family and from any background. Often tasked with caring for siblings, grandparents and other relatives, as well as parents, their responsibilities affect their friendships and relationships, their learning and development, health and wellbeing and future career choices.

Feeling isolated

Most people they see won’t know it but the young carers are likely to be stressed and anxious about the person they care for, feeling isolated or misunderstood, starved of opportunities to relax and enjoy themselves, worried about being left behind in their school or college work and possibly under pressure to make sure they stay safe while making the right life choices.

This is an awful lot for a young person to have to deal with but Spurgeons can help young carers with a programme of activity and support designed to boost their confidence, strengthen their emotional resilience, make them safer and lead them to make better decisions.

Our local workshops and residentials focused on group activities, peer support, sessions on drugs and alcohol misuse, First Aid, building self-esteem and confidence, healthy relationships, anti-bullying, health and hygiene, healthy eating and online safety.

We also had a celebration event at the end of the programme that gave the young carers the opportunity to demonstrate their new-found skills and creativity to their peers, families, friends and supporters of the programme.

Restoring childhood

Young carers are constantly at the centre of caring situations. The awards judges will have seen how the young carers were given an opportunity to take a break, have some fun, make new friends and acquire new knowledge and skills.

One participant in the programme thanked us for helping him, “to meet people who understand my situation; I have made friends for life and you have given me the opportunity to feel like a kid again!”

A number of these young carers have been inspired by their experience to join our Young Carers Committee and help shape the future of the service in Birmingham and the West Midlands.

Although funding for this ground-breaking project has sadly come to an end, it thankfully gave these young carers in Birmingham a break. We’re continuing to work hard to find more funding to bring the programme back… and so do the same for more young carers still needing this help in the future.

Jackie Benton – Birmingham Young Carers

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