Day in the life of a young carer

Image caption,
Best of friends: Leigh (left) and Megan lead very different lives at home

A comparison of a child carer and her best friend's typical day, as part of a day of BBC coverage on child carers.

Leigh and Megan are two bubbly eight-year-old schoolgirls from Dundee.

They are in the same class and are best friends and, like many other little girls, they enjoy running about in the playground, laughing together and playing games.

But, as the graphic below clearly shows, outside school their lives are very different.

This is because Leigh is a young carer - a child who looks after a family member who has an illness.

Leigh's mum Kirsty separated from Leigh's father when she was still a toddler.

Around that time, she was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, also known as manic depression.

Kirsty has to take sleeping pills that take a while to wear off and needs to be woken up in the morning.

She also has a fear of crowded places and says she can only go into town if Leigh is with her.

Without Leigh she says she would find it difficult to get through the day.

More recently Kirsty has developed cellulitis, an infection in her leg and sometimes has to use a crutch.

Kirsty relies heavily on Leigh for both practical and emotional support.

"All throughout the day, Leigh gives me kisses and cuddles and makes me smile and makes me feel better by telling me she loves me and that I am the best. This is just as important to me as the physical help she gives me," says Kirsty.

Media caption,
Leigh, aged eight, cares for her mother, Kirsty, who suffers from bipolar disorder

Leigh has to get up half an hour earlier than Megan. She gets her own breakfast, wakes her mum up, brings her a drink to take with her medication and gets herself ready for school.

Megan is woken by her mum Shona, who gives her breakfast, makes sure she is dressed and ready and drives her to school.

Leigh walks there on her own because her mother's medication prevents her from using the car in the morning.

After school, Megan spends most of her time in the park with a friend, watching TV or playing on the computer.

Her mum makes her tea and gets her clothes ready for the next day along with doing all the other household chores.

Meanwhile, Leigh has to help her mum with the shopping, get it home, put it away, help make tea, do the washing up, load the washing machine and put the bins out.

Leigh has just two hours in the day she can call her own. From 5pm to 7pm she goes to a local centre for child carers.

Her mother is all too aware that Leigh needs support herself in order to be able to support her mum.

"The group gives them a chance to be children," she says. "It also lets them know they are not alone."

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