Helping Young Caregivers Thrive
Whether you are in education or health care, you have probably already met families with young caregivers (YCs). They support a family member who is ill, aging or disabled. They provide daily care, psychological support, do household chores, cook, manage bills or take care of their brothers and sisters when their parents, who are the caregivers, are unavailable.
Young caregiving can have negative impacts on the physical and mental health of young people, but also on their long-term life plans. Many YCs keep their situation a secret, for fear that their parents will be blamed or for fear of being separated from their family, because they are ashamed of providing adult hygiene, or to protect their family from stigmatization (prejudices about mental health problems, dependency, disability, etc.).
The good news is that with support, listening and understanding, the negative effects can be greatly reduced, and the positive effects of young caregiving can be greatly enhanced. Here are some videos to guide you. Feel free to share them with your colleagues!
Education professional video
Health care professional video
Making Young Caregiving Visible
Do you want to make a difference for better recognition and support? Get involved in a working group that already has a few experts in health, education and caregiving! Your expertise or experience can be useful to our working group on young caregiving.
By talking about it, it will be possible to develop a support network for young caregivers. Don’t hesitate to talk about it around you, or to ask RANQ for training for your institution.
How to Detect a Young Caregiver?
Various evaluation tools exist, but none of them are adapted to the Quebec context. The following are various external signs that may indicate that a child or youth is taking on the role of a YC. The youth:
- Has physical pain (headaches, backaches, etc.)
- Has behavioural problems
- Is secretive about his or her home life
- Shows signs of physical neglect, malnutrition or neglect of clothing
- Is often absent or late
- Is often tired, depressed, anxious or introverted
- Has difficulty making or keeping friends
- Sees a sudden decline in school performance
- Seems very mature for his/her age
- Is bullied
- Has difficulty concentrating
- Does not participate in field trips or extracurricular activities
- Attends medical/health visits for a loved one
- Worries about the health of a loved one
- Often turns in work late or sloppy
- Is under the care of youth protection programs
- Never has parents present at parent-teacher conferences or parents have little or no communication with the school
- Does not pay expenses for school activities
- Has a sibling who is registered as a student with a disability or health problem
Supporting Young Caregivers: Everyone’s Business!
We have developed a guide that presents various possible strategies to adopt as a health or education professional, based on the most recent scientific data and on best practices elsewhere in the world. While waiting for specific support for young caregivers to be developed in Quebec, here are some approaches that contribute to the development of young caregivers:
- Offer them a listening ear on a regular basis, even if they don’t take advantage of your offer right away, they may accept it later.
- Be empathetic, listen, believe them and respect their right not to tell you everything.
- Be able to name the situation, acknowledge their commitment, but also communicate that the emotions they are experiencing are normal without making them feel different or problematic.
- Focus on their perspective and experience rather than on their loved one.
- Allow them to be active in their own lives, without absolving governments of responsibility for the care of the most vulnerable.
- YCs appreciate interventions with the family, which increase services for the person being cared for, and promote good communication within the family.
- YCs want the positive aspects of young caregivers to be valued.
- A young person experiencing a difficulty has the right to confidentiality and information.
- YCs like to be appreciated for who they are and not for what they do. They appreciate the support that allows them to be young: expression of emotions, recreational activities, socialization.
- YCs like to realize that other young people may be in similar situations and to share with them.
- Above all, they want to be heard and understood, without judgments or assumptions about the situation and its impact.
- Intervention is required especially if the YC is no longer able to cite the positive aspects of the young caregiving.