Caring for a loved one can include cleaning the house, making dinner, distributing medication and arranging hospital appointments. According to the Scottish Government there are 44,000 young carers in Scotland helping their loved ones – and many more may not even realise that they’re carers.
Identifying as a young carer or not realising they’re in a caring role, the big question remains: what is it like being a young carer?
“As it’s been my whole life I don’t really know anything different so I can’t say what it is like: it’s my life. It can be hard sometimes and it can be emotionally and physically difficult because you can’t go out with friends. It’s challenging sometimes to talk to people because you don’t know how they’ll take it,” explains Jamie-Louise Murray.
A bubbly, enthusiastic young woman who cares for her mother and father, Jamie-Louise takes her caring role in her stride, and it is clear that she has a very nurturing personality. Jamie-Louise who is about to turn 14, faces responsibilities that many young people don’t have to take into consideration.
Young carers carry out similar tasks as adult carers. Heather Noller, policy and parliamentary officer for Carers Trust Scotland, says: “Young carers do a lot of the same things as adult carers – practical tasks such as cooking and housework, physical or personal care including helping someone to get dressed or get out of bed, helping to give medicine or collect prescriptions, or emotional support like talking to someone who is distressed or upset.”
Similarly, managing the family budget or caring for siblings can also be required of young carers.
It can be hard at the best of times for young people to balance their social lives with school and homework. Adding caring into the mix can be extremely stressful and demanding of a young person, however, Jamie-Louise understands the necessity of caring for herself and prioritising her time.
“You have to think about what is the most important and least important – usually homework is down at the bottom. We need some time for space: we need even five minutes and you have to either prioritise homework or five minutes to yourself at night or in the morning,” says Jamie-Louise. “You need five minutes to yourself or you just get overwhelmed with everything.”
The number of young carers in Scotland is an alarming figure, and this is before taking into consideration the number of young people who don’t identify – or don’t realise – they are carers. It’s for this reason their hard work and dedication to care should be celebrated at any opportunity. Even so, carers still face challenges and there are lots of misconceptions about what a young carer does.
Jamie-Louise adds: “Some people are not as supportive as they should be – especially teachers at school. They don’t really know what is going on. If I don’t do a piece of homework they’re not very supportive a lot of the time.” Having a strong guidance system in place, especially at school, is imperative to ensure that young people are in good stead to achieve their hopes and aspirations in the same way their peers can.
“Young carers benefit from the support provided by young carer services, who provide opportunities for young carers to be free from their caring responsibilities, meet other young carers, access one-to-one support, take part in activities, clubs and breaks from caring, and most of all have fun,” explains Heather. Jamie-Louise attends a Young Carers group and sees the benefits of sharing her experience with her peers.
Caring for both her mother and father, Jamie-Louise and her family take everything day by day. When it comes to assistance and support for Jamie-Louise, she heads to Young Carers for a break from caring. But it’s not just a well-deserved rest; she gets to connect with other young people who have the same experiences, talk and listen.
Attending the weekly group, Jamie-Louise has two hours a week to step away from her caring. She says: “You get to go out places. People in this group know how caring affects you and that also builds your confidence. I didn’t have many friends and now that I go to Young Carers I have. I have true friends that know what I’m going through.”
Having a close knit friendship group that understands what it’s like to be a young carer is vital for those who identify as young carers. Other friends may not be able to relate to their lives and may not be as understanding.
“Try and find one person that you can confide in and this person needs to be a true friend. You have to talk, otherwise you will just explode,” advises Jamie-Louise.
Caring provides young people with an opportunity to connect with parents on a level that many peers may not. On the other hand, it can cause isolation, stress and feelings of loneliness. Juggling the responsibilities of caring, going to school and growing up can be challenging but their hard work and dedication is a testament to their caring natures.