They make the breakfast, do the laundry, give out medicine — all behind closed doors. But young carers still need one thing — their childhood
She’s packed everyone’s lunchboxes for school, put the laundry on, fed the dog and given her mum her medicine.
But this isn’t another adult looking after her family.
It’s a seven-year-old child.
There are around 700,000 young carers in Britain — this is around one in every 12 secondary school-aged children. Their duties range from giving medication and caring for ill parents to helping disabled parents and assisting with the care of siblings.
Often it’s months before anyone even realises that a young person is officially a carer, as the care takes place behind closed doors.
According to a survey by the Carers Trust, 39 per cent of young carers said nobody in their school was aware of their role.
Being a young carer can make it hard for children to keep up with school work. And according to the Trust, one in 20 miss school because of their role as a carer.
But what about their childhood? While other kids their age are out playing with their friends in the park, these young people are missing out.
Peter Suchet is Director of Fundraising and Marketing at the young carers’ charity Honeypot. They provide breaks for young carers where they can take part in activities such as riding a bike, swimming or just having fun.
‘We provide breaks for young carers aged five to 12 years old and they really need this break because they’ve been robbed of their childhood,’ he says. ‘What we do is give them that childhood back for a few days.’
Honeypot have two respite homes where children can simply be children again — one in the New Forest and one in Powys.
Every Friday the charity sends a bus to pick up 12 young carers from their schools and takes them to the respite centres where they can ride bikes, swim, pet animals and do face-painting.
Peter says this is important because their usual lives can be the complete opposite.
‘Many of these young carers get up at 5.30am. They change bed linen, do laundry, change dressings or bandages, give medication — all before they go to school,’ he says. ‘Our breaks not only give them a chance to enjoy their childhood, it also helps build their confidence and they meet other children in the same situation.’
The charity is the only one in the UK giving consistent support to children right up until their 12th birthday. Children have to be referred either by their GP, social services or their school.
‘We then go and assess their home situation,’ Peter explains, ‘and crucially, we replace their care while they have a break as often these children feel guilty about leaving home for a short time.’
The key thing, Peter adds, is that the support doesn’t end when the break ends. Young carers need to know the support is ongoing during their demanding home lives.
Honeypot makes sure each child gets a birthday card and a Christmas present.
Peter says that the emphasis on letting children have a childhood is so important.
He adds: ‘Many of these children have never had a holiday. One child came on a break and saw the sea for the first time. He threw his arms open and said, “I never knew it was so big!’’ It was a wonderful moment.’
Edited by Julie Cook
For further information, visit honeypot.org.uk
She’d lost her spark
I’m a single mum to three children — Rosie, 11, James, five, and Victoria, 18 months. Rosie’s life was normal until her brother James came along.
He was born with a learning disability. For the first three years he barely spoke and had violent mood swings.
One day, when Rosie was six, she found me in tears as I tried to dress James.
She said: ‘Don’t cry, Mummy. I can do that.’
From that day on, Rosie became my second pair of hands. She made meals, sorted clothes out and did the washing.
When other kids were out riding their first bikes, Rosie was indoors dressing and washing her younger brother.
Her help was wonderful, but I felt so guilty. I worried that she was missing out on her childhood.
In time I had Victoria. With another child I struggled.
So I approached social services. But they decided we didn’t need help.
Rosie seemed cheerful. But I noticed that childlike look in her eyes had gone.
Then when Rosie was nine, I found out about Honeypot. I got a referral from a local carers’ charity and arranged for Rosie to go away for a short break to the New Forest.
She ran outside, climbed trees, made cakes and rode a bike. When she came home, that youthful look had returned.
I cried seeing her so happy.
Now Rosie is 11 and still a carer. She looks forward to her biannual breaks with Honeypot and has won a local award for being a young carer.
I am so glad this charity exists to give her the childhood she deserves.
From Jade Stevens, 37, of Rainham, Kent