Who Are Young Caregivers?

Who Are Young Caregivers?

The terms young carer and young caregiver are interchangeable and refer to children, youth, and young adults who provide care for a family member due to a chronic illness, disability (physical or intellectual), mental health concern, substance misuse, or socioeconomic factor (language barrier, etc.). Young caregivers support their family members in various ways including: providing personal care (e.g. grooming, medication administration and dressing), caring for siblings, providing financial and practical care and emotional support. Young caregivers are the hidden army of family caregivers helping to keep their loved ones at home.

Canadian Overview

This is Hana

Before she leaves for work this afternoon, she has to help her dad get dressed and put on his prosthetic legs, translate for her mom at a medical appointment, and finish an assignment for school.

Hana is more than 1.25 million young caregivers in Canada.

Young Caregivers in Canada

According to the 2012 General Social Survey (GSS), there are an estimated 1.25 million young caregivers in Canada aged 15 to 24.  This data excludes Northern Canada and children under the age of 15, leaving out a significant number of children and youth who provide care for a loved one.

Dr. Vivian Stamatopoulos

Facts about Young Caregivers

  • On average, Canadian young caregivers are providing between 14 and 27 hours of care per week, the equivalent to a part-time job, for their caregiving role (Chalmers, 2008, 2017; Stamatopoulos, 2018).
  • Unpaid care given by young caregivers corresponds to an annual savings of $25,000–$50,000 for the family and/or healthcare system (Chalmers, 2017)
  • It is likely that a young carer’s academic performance and life at school are affected by their family situation and caregiving role.
  • Canada trails behind other countries that support young caregivers.
  • According to Dr. Stamatopoulos, the “young carer penalty” incurred by such child and youth caregivers poses short- and long-term harm to their academic, social, and professional development, ultimately compromising their well-being and development in the absence of national supports and safeguards (Chalmers & Lucyk, 2012; Stamatopoulos, 2018).
  • Supporting young caregivers to reduce the negative impacts of early caregiving is thus a cost-effective strategy that can prevent future social, psychological, and economic penalties experienced by such youth across the lifespan (Stamatopoulos, 2018).

Young Caregivers with a strong support system are

  • no longer hidden
  • better able to access appropriate supports including counseling and respite care
  • experiencing improved resilience and coping skills along with increased self-esteem and confidence and a decrease in social isolation, stress and caregiver fatigue
  • feeling better connected to supports and services
  • being recognized by professionals Canada-wide
  • experiencing improved educational outcomes and have better employment opportunities experiencing improved long-term health and mental wellness

WHAT WE know

Although young caregivers play very important roles in their families, they often grow up quickly and can feel as though they lost their childhood. Their added responsibilities can create a lot of big feelings like loneliness, sadness, anger, frustration and feeling different. These feelings, along with the lack of recognition and support, can lead to anxiety and symptoms of depression.

Young caregivers demonstrate many strengths and skills that they gain through their caregiving roles. We always say that so many of the young caregivers we work with are wise beyond their years as they have had to handle many life experiences. Their care allows loved ones to remain at home and helps the success of the family.

Young caregivers report that they feel unrecognized by professionals (i.e., health care, teachers, social workers, homecare workers) and therefore, go unidentified and unsupported, putting their wellbeing at risk. Young caregivers are shown to be held back from pursuing professional and academic opportunities; employment is a challenge because of the on-call nature of their caregiving and due to the responsibilities at home. Education is affected by lack of sleep and concentration, truancy, and a lack of time for homework and studying (Lakman, Chalmers & Sexton, 2017; Stamatopoulos, 2018). International young caregiver research highlights how caregiving youth have relatively high levels of unemployment, lower rates of labour force participation, and higher rates of government support (Stamatopoulos, 2018). Young caregivers are a hidden and at-risk population that must be recognized.

When compared to non-caregiving peers, research reveals that young caregivers are at greater risk of:

Increased Stress

High levels of loneliness

Depressive symptoms

High Levels of isolation

Low Self-Esteem

Difficulty relating to peers

High Anxiety Levels

Less opportunity for physical activity

The Upsides to caring

Young caregivers also speak of the upsides to caring. Although times can be very stressful and there are big feelings that can come along with the role, caregiving is reported to bring out many positive outcomes.

What we know is that when young caregivers go unsupported, the negative outcomes outweigh the positives. Supporting young caregivers will enable them to continue to care for their loved ones at home while potentially reducing hospital visits, homecare needs, and delaying long-term care admission, resulting in meaningful, long-lasting impact for society as a whole.

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