There are an estimated 700,000 young carers in the UK- that is an astonishing number, and an often hidden and forgotten section of society. In these difficult times, we’ve been reflecting on how challenging it must be for young people who are facing uncertainty about their exams or futures, but also for the vast amount of young carers who have lost vital access to the services that support them and create space for them to just be. For them to just be young people.
The Loss Project is collaborating with the London Borough Tower Hamlet’s Young Carers service. We have been working closely with a small group of young carers to make a film about their experiences. It’s been so inspiring to work with them, especially as they are a fairly newly formed group. They are vivacious, creative and full of energy. They have taught us a lot about young carers, but one of the (many) things that struck us the most was that they did not want to create a film where people pitied them for their circumstances, but that instead shone a light on the many skills that they are developing, pretty rapidly, by caring for family members and having more responsibilities than the “average” young person. The most important thing to them is:
“We are just young people, we are a young person first not a young carer.”
This is a lesson learnt- as a society we are all more comfortable when things are neatly labelled, and put into its correct place. We know rationally that things are more complex than that but ultimately what these young people crave is to be understood for the young people that they are; not for the role they assume. Sounds simple, but so many of our systems structurally create a deficit model which puts young carers in a position of being identified by their role, rather than who they are.
We asked Sorrel Norwood from the LB Tower Hamlets Young Carers Service, to give us their insights into what could be helpful for young carers at this time:
Creating a virtual environment: The most important thing is to try and create a virtual environment where you can try and mirror the community created within local young carers projects. It can be really isolating being a young carer at the best of times but when the group that you rely on is taken away from you it can make you even more anxious and distressed. By trying to create a virtual community group you can try and recreate the peer learning that is essential to the success of any young carers project. This could be through Zoom, an e-classroom or a WhatsApp group. It also reminds the young carers that they aren’t alone in facing the challenges that pandemics can present.
Advocacy: having someone who is advocating for them in terms of their caring during this time is very important. Many young carers may have other professionals in their lives checking in on them, whether its teachers, social workers or other youth workers, however they may not be asking the young people if their caring responsibilities have changed during this time and if they need any additional support to help them. Having someone checking in on them and making sure that things are manageable is really important. Even if they are doing okay for the time being, it’s good for them to know that if things change then they can reach out. It really can be as simple as a weekly text asking how they are getting on.
JUST ASK: But most importantly, I think that professionals just need to ask young carers directly what exactly it is that they want from them during this time. For some, it might simply be signposting to additional resources online such as education, mental health support or social care help. Others might rather have more socially engaging conversations with youth workers on a regular basis and others might crave distraction. It's important to think of each young carer as an individual and try as much as possible to meet their needs.
In the end it boils down to having a professional that they feel comfortable talking to about the challenges they may be facing at home. The way they want this interaction will vary from person to person, but that is the most important thing for young people to have right now to help them feel continuity from life before the lock down to the (hopefully) equally as bright future after it.
Our question is when the pandemic passes how can we create opportunities where young carers are better connected to suit their individual needs, recognised for their talents, gifts and experiences but also create them the space to be who they are? We were inspired by the words of Candi Staton, which featured in the modern screen version of Romeo and Juliet and resonated with us when we were reflecting for this blog, that fundamentally we need to enable the conditions for...
“Young hearts, [to] run free”
How can we best support young carers not only with practical support, but more importantly to be the young, free and wonderfully unique and talented individuals they are?
Let’s bring them into the forefront. They can teach us so much.
Follow us for more updates on the Young Carer’s film launch (post CV-19 lock down) on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook @thelossproject1
With many thanks to London Borough Tower Hamlets Young Carer's Service for their input into this blog and our continued work together.