Hana assisting her father with his prosthetic legs © Images Courtesy of Young Caregivers
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 school assignments. Hana is a young caregiver.
There are over one million young caregivers like Hana in Canada. A Canadian study shows that young caregivers provide 14-27 hours of care per week, equivalent to a part-time job. This unpaid care being given by young caregivers saves $25,000-50,000 for the family and healthcare system. Yet, these young caregivers are often unrecognized and unsupported by the professionals they engage with in health care, education, and community services.
Why should we care?
Canada has an aging population. This, along with an overloaded healthcare system, is putting a great amount of stress and demand on family caregivers. The difference for young caregivers is that, unlike adult caregivers, they are children and youth who are in their developmental stages of life and exploring their own identities and interests. At young ages, their ability to cope, their skills in managing stress and communicating effectively, and their ability to identify their own emotions and needs are still being developed. Without sufficient recognition and support, young caregivers are at risk of increased stress and depressive symptoms, low self-esteem, high anxiety levels, loneliness and isolation, difficulty relating to peers, self-harm and even suicidal ideation.
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. The young caregiver experience is not standardized. Data is needed to deepen our understanding of the needs of young caregivers and their families in order for Canada to develop policy that improves the recognition and support of this huge chunk of our population.
One organization has paved the way for better understanding and supporting of young caregivers in Ontario. Young Caregivers Association™ (YCA), established in 2007, is exclusively dedicated to improving the well-being of young caregivers, ages five to 25, through the delivery of programs, specialized counselling, support groups, and social recreation. This initiative addresses the negative impacts of caregiving on young caregivers and uses rigorous measurement practices to ensure evidence informs its practices.
With a grant received by the Petro Canada CareMakers Foundation™, YCA has developed the Young Caregivers Knowledge Centre. This section of the YCA website has different resources available for social workers, educators, health professionals, parents, and young caregivers. The resources provide ways to identify and support young caregivers in these different work sectors. It is imperative for professionals to ask key questions to help identify hidden young caregivers in all systems. The resources on the website support how to do this and also provides an easy way to refer to YCA programs and services. As we expand nationally across Canada, contact us for upcoming national programs at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How will this help?
Young caregivers’ immediate desired outcome is simply to be acknowledged and included.
A group of young caregivers supported by the YCA created a video sharing their views on what it means to be seen. By building the capacity for professionals who interact with children, youth, and families, we can improve the identification of young caregivers and offer support. It is time for young caregivers in Canada to be seen, heard, and offered support.
Visit youngcaregivers.ca to watch the video and learn more.
At the Young Caregivers Association™, our vision is to see a Canada where Young Caregivers and their families are recognized, supported, and empowered to achieve their full potential