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 national finalist in this year’s awards run by Children & Young People Now magazine, the project’s BBC Children in Need funding came to a close. Spurgeons Children’s Services Manager Jackie Benton, who heads our Birmingham young carers’ initiative, 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 chance to get away 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. As a main carer, they will typically oversee medication for a family member, help them get washed and dressed, give emotional support, help other family members and access support agencies or health services.
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 on 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 miss-use, 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.
Young carers are constantly at the centre of caring situations, their childhood taken away from them. 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. The residentials in particular allowed the young carers some time away to be themselves in a safe environment, to bond as a group, to trust each other, work together and develop each other’s learning.
Through the themed activities and the training, the young carers came away with much greater self-awareness, able to recognise the negative choices they’d made in the past and to see more positive alternatives, understand the consequences of any risky behaviours, improve their social skills and appreciate the value of their school or college learning.
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.
Young carers are renowned for being socially isolated. This nationally recognised project gave our young carers an opportunity to make friends with their peers, who have that deeper understanding of what they all go through on a daily basis. Young carers carry burdens that force them to grow up quicker than others their age. They play parent to their younger siblings, even to their own parents and do things that no child should ever have to deal with.
Thankfully, this ground-breaking project gave young carers in Birmingham a break. If only a funder or sponsor could do the same for the project.
Jackie Benton – Birmingham Young Carers