Viewpoint: Should the parents of young carers get the support?

Laura Miller with her son, Jonathan

It emerged last week in a report by The Children's Society that there are almost 250,000 young carers in the UK. But do we need to shift the focus to the parents?

Every parent wants their son or daughter to develop into a caring and thriving individual and, obviously, to enjoy their childhood.

I am a wheelchair user and have health difficulties which can affect me performing some day-to-day tasks.

Currently my son is too young to be considered a young carer, so it's obvious to strangers that it is me who looks after him. But when he's a little older, say three or four, I worry that passers-by might presume that he is the one looking after Mummy, rather than vice versa. I cringe that he might get congratulated on how he is such a good boy just because he's walking next to mummy who's in a wheelchair. I know it would be well-meant but what would people be imagining? And I truly fear that, one day, he might come home from nursery with an award.

Concern for young carers

In it's report Hidden from View, The Children's Society used Census data to conclude that some 244,000 people aged under 19 were carers.

It says many remain "hidden from official sight for a host of reasons, including family loyalty, stigma, bullying, not knowing where to go for support".

Their GCSE results were likely to be "significantly lower" than peers - the equivalent of nine grades overall - while they were more likely to be out of work, training or education when aged 16 to 19.

The Children's Society called for agencies to support the whole family, allowing youngsters to "thrive and enjoy their childhoods".

One of my biggest quandaries is how much I should expect my son to help out as he grows up.

A good parent gets their child to do household tasks. I want a boy who can tidy rooms, wash clothes and fend for himself as an adult. And I look forward to enjoying the teamwork we will always have to do so that we can all have fun as a family. To my mind this is a positive thing.

But families also look after each other, this needs to be better understood.

Beyond the tidying and dusting, the question of how much a child should be directly involved in caring for a parent is one that is obviously dear to my heart. I'm thinking of things like having my child help put my coat or shoes on; something I can't always do for myself. I don't want to be accused of being a bad parent for this.

It gets even more complex when I think about what's right and wrong, and what reactions might result. I have an undiagnosed problem that sometimes means I collapse. So, for instance, when he reaches 13 and starts maturing, should I instruct him never to come and help his (naked) mother if she falls in the bath?

Where do we draw the boundaries and why? I tend to measure this by asking: "Will this task harm him, hurt him or put him in a legally questionable area?"

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I have met many families who fear their child will be categorised as 'at risk' if they ask for help”

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If the answer is yes, then it would be inappropriate. But to leave him out of important tasks is to put him on the edge of our family life. We will always be his family and loving family members do things together.

Throughout the pregnancy I was certain of my goals as a mum, though how I was going to achieve them was not so clear.

From the start I knew I wanted to save all my best energy for Jonathan and, because I have fluctuating conditions, this would mean that I'd need help with cooking, cleaning and running the household so I have enough reserves to be a parent.

During this time I read up on what support was available, including from social services. Initially it seemed encouraging and I understood that something called Direct Payments, an agreed monthly care budget, could have allowed us to employ a care assistant.

It looked like a very practical way of enabling me to be a parent. However, the social workers we dealt with seemed to assess us with a critical attitude. They withdrew when it became clear that practical support would require them to finance it.

Since then I have met many families with a similar story and parents who fear that their child will be categorised as "at risk" if they ask for help, when all the family wants is to protect and provide for them.

It makes sense that a lack of help provision could be the reason why children are caring for parents in ways The Children's Society deems inappropriate.

Who, then, is responsible for ensuring a disabled parent is given medication, a bath or supervision, if there are no other adults or careworkers present?

It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child. The reality is that part of that "village" is the provision that the government makes towards protecting our families. If the Adult Services and Children's Services within social work came together and gave whole-family assessments that recognised the importance of supporting the parent, this would seem like a sensible place to start.

Laura Miller lives in Glasgow with her husband and 16-month-old son, Jonathan. She is a peer support volunteer for disabled parents


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  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Children should not have to give disabled parents any support - if they wish to give them some support then fair enough, but they should not HAVE to give any.

    The way this country treats it's young, old, poor & sick in an utter disgrace in this, the 21stC - we stopped being a civilised country in May 2010.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Your article is thoughtful and interesting, but I think you are worrying too much about how much your son should help out as he grows up & even what others will think when he walks besides you! You are clearly a clever, capable and caring women, I'm sure your parental intuition will not let you down and you will easily work out what feels right for all your family in these situations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    12 cherade9
    Social services do their best & care deeply!,but as for ALL resource??
    Quite often you have to suspend all logic and intellectual rigour when it comes to the care that's available,it is never related to your actual need or requirements,but ticks another box in the so called care plan computer print-out,that is unrelated to reality when you actually examine what the tick means!

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    My son is 13 and is classed as a young carer. Thankfully my husband and I can manage all of my personal care needs between us. However I'm also very aware of the lack of support from Social services, as we've already been involved with them over an unrelated matter. All they cared about was that my son wasn't caring for me, not with who or what would give me the care I need instead.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    I agree with your comments, but I also note that Social Services see a carer in a child even if they are not. My eldest watched my young son whilst I went to the Toilet, This led to a full out Child Protection meeting!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Agree with the comments in the article but question why society, statutory organizations are allowing children take on a full care role, of cooking cleaning & caring, medicating etc. As a mum with a disability I and husband cared for our children, though chores are normal, anything more then official support shld be given. Children should be children and not labelled otherwise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I think the young carer is more likely to be affected when they've grown up. If you grow up in a family being a carer for your parent, it's the 'norm' and you don't realise what you've missed out on until your older and can become bitter and resentful. Praise for youngsters is always good, but when it's the 'norm', it really means nothing. . . .(an ex young carer)

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I agree with the entire article apart from one small bit,

    " I cringe that he might get congratulated on how he is such a good boy just because he's walking next to mummy who's in a wheelchair."

    I would congratulate him for walking by the wheelchair and not running off ahead; for realising the worry that it causes his mummy when he runs up the street; for not getting "wheeled" on!

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Previous report stated "Children must be allowed to thrive & enjoy their childhoods,& not be forced to take caring roles that are too often inappropriate"
    Who could possibly disagree?
    Obviously the adult who is disabled or a carer desires the same "thrive & enjoy"etc their life.
    But who or what replaces the child or adult,for the same length of time,at weekends,eve etc,well intentioned words dont!

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    We hold up our arms in horror when we read of children emboidering T-shirts in factories in 3rd world countries, yet in our own practically force them to be carers. Shame on us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I was so worried about how my disability would impact my son's life. I was determined he would never have to help his mummy in any way. Now he is here, I have relaxed a little. He will never be my carer but I want to teach him that families care and help each other when they can. Families learn to cope but coping isn't always enough, sometimes we need help and shouldn't be afraid to ask for it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    As a disabled mother I am scared to ask for help. It's easy to say "If you can't look after yourself, you can't look after a child" but this lacks all understanding of individual needs! It's horrific to think children are doing more than they should and I do not want my sons to suffer by caring for me. We should be protecting the family unit, support given where it is truly needed in each case.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I commend Ms. Miller's candour - it is refreshing. What I would want if I were in her shoes would be a positive attitude from social services. As her son grows up, there should be regular reviews of a) his capacity to help out at home; and b) how best to balance his needs with those of his mum. Proper planning and regular, pro-active contact will be crucial.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    As a child, there is a big difference between doing your bit and taking total responsibility. No child should be burdened with the responsibility of caring for an adult.
    Unfortunately we live in a society where if you don't shout up no-one hears you and too many youngsters are left with a heavy burden and sense of responsibility and guilt...shame

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    When my daughter was 11, I had a stroke. Whilst I still was in hospital she said "I'd better start doing Mummy's jobs"... &, now 16, still takes care of washing clothes and dishes. She's been classed as a 'young carer' (rather to her surprise) & has been invited to join a charity-run group which organises a programme of evening events to give them some fun. Thank you, Crossroads!


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