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 carers are often unrecognized and unsupported by the professionals they engage within health care, education, and community services.
Why should we care?
Canada has an aging population. This, along with an overloaded health care 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™, established in 2007, is exclusively dedicated to improving the well-being of young caregivers 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 recent grant received by the Petro Canada CareMakers Foundation™, YCA is developing a national awareness campaign targeting the health, education, community services, and social work sectors in order to increase the identification of young caregivers. Professionals are being encouraged to SEE young caregivers, include them in conversations, and show interest in how they are doing. In addition to awareness, this grant will allow YCA to formalize its position as the thought leader around young caregiving while sharing knowledge and research through a ‘knowledge hub.’
How will this help?
Young caregivers’ immediate desired outcome is simply to be acknowledged and included.
“I wish medical professionals would listen to me and know that when I talk about my father, I know what I am talking about. I see it every day. I am the one caring for him every day.”—*Sam, age 16
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.
(*) Name Changed
Young Caregivers Association™ was established in 2003. We’re the first organization in Canada dedicated to supporting young caregivers and their families, who live in rural and urban communities while building awareness across Canada. Through Powerhouse™, our award-winning and internationally recognized program, we have supported hundreds of children and youth. We have participated in several research studies. As an expert organization, we are committed to leading the way for improved recognition and support of these hidden family caregivers.