Written on June 12, 2013 – 7:09 am | by Audrey Miller
At some point in our lives, regardless of age, most of us will experience being a carer. Anyone can become a carer; carers come from all walks of life, all cultures and can be of any age. Many feel they are doing what anyone else would in the same situation; looking after their mother, son, or best friend and just getting on with it. Family carers don’t usually choose to become carers and when it does, it is often the job given to an adult. However what happens when the adult is ill and unable to look after themselves?
Dr. Grant Charles and his colleagues at the University of British Columbia have completed research to determine how many young people are in a primary caregiving role. He found that 12% of young people surveyed in a high school in Vancouver self-identified as being primary caregivers, meaning they answered yes to the question: “Do you spend any time taking care of an adult in your family because they cannot care for themselves?” (Charles, Stainton & Marshall, 2010). This number cut across gender and ethnicity lines, and was split between male and female respondents. Two thirds of these respondents were providing care either to a parent or grandparent.
We refer to these young people as young carers. They can be as young as 6 years of age, and they often take on practical and/or emotional caring responsibilities that would normally be expected of an adult. The tasks undertaken can vary according to the nature of the illness or disability, the level and frequency of need for care and the structure of the family as a whole.
When I talk to people about young carers, they react in surprise. Even teachers across the various boards of education are not aware of these young people taking on a responsibility that goes above and beyond their years. While there are large support networks in the UK and in the States, Canada has lagged behind. There are some initiatives that have been started. The Young Carers Initiative (YCI) and Hospice Toronto have joined forces to establish Young Carers Canada, a national organization to promote the well being of young carers and their families.
With an aging population, it stands to reason that more and more young Canadians will be called on to step in as primary caregivers within their family networks. They need our support. To magnify the voices of young carers and their families and raise awareness of the risks and opportunities unique to their experiences, I had the pleasure of producing ‘Lucky’ The Young Carer Rap which is a rap video highlighting the musical talents of Tricky P, a hip hop artist and young caregiver himself. It is a year since the launch of Lucky and I am glad to say that there has been some forward movement. Action Canada produced a report that continues to raise awareness and provides a number of recommendations for supporting these young people.
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