This week’s speaker is Teresa Mikalauskas from Young Carers in conversation with our speaker co-ordinator John Isles
John: Welcome Teresa. Can I start by asking what job you have with Young Carers and how Young Carers was set up?
Teresa: I am the Senior Project Leader for the Torbay Branch. Each of the young carers services are set up differently, so while ours is based in the local authority children’s services, others were set up by charities, so there is no one answer to who set it up. I can tell you though that in Torbay it was originally set up in 1997 by Action for Children, with a remit to work with 24 young people (we are now actively supporting over 250!).
John: What Services do you offer?
Teresa: It’s perhaps more a case of; what don’t we offer. Many of the young carers’ services will provide a range of support through groups, activities or one-to-one support. They will also be working with schools and other professionals to make sure that they are recognizing the needs of young carers.
John: What are some of the major challenges Young Carers face?
Teresa: In terms of the challenges young carers face, these can be a real variety. Often we find that young carers may have difficulty with education (non-attendance; lateness; feeling unable to concentrate in class; worrying about the person they care for; bullying; time for homework). The result of this is that while some young carers still do very well academically, research shows that they often do not reach their full potential. Socially it can be difficult for young carers, for example they may find it hard to get a break and to access usual childhood activities – this can mean that they are isolated from their peers.
Emotionally, many young carers are very mature, but at a young age they are taking on high levels of responsibility with al the worries that come with this, and this can affect their ongoing emotional and mental health. Physically, young carers can be affected – some are involved in lifting and manual handling which can cause ongoing back problems; there can be loss of sleep if they are having to get up in the night to care for someone; the difficulties of joining in activities outside of the home can also impact physically. The information from the most recent census shows that young carers are more likely to report as having ‘not good’ health themselves.
Obviously every young person’s situation is different and not everyone will be affected in the same way, and the outlook is not bleak for all young carers – many are able to use the skills they have learnt through their situation, and grow into incredibly resourceful and responsible young adults. Others however, will find the impact of their situation means that they find the transitions to adulthood more difficult.
John: Do you provide an opportunity for the Young Carers to have a break?
Teresa: Yes very much so. In terms of breaks away – that is one of the areas that young carers services can help. Occasionally there may be residential breaks (Calvert Trust or National Young Carers Festival). We also use the local facility at Warren Barn, Cockington. Sometimes it can be day trips for a break, or evening groups. All of these not only help to give the young carers a bit of ‘me’ time away from caring but also help them to meet other young people in similar situations. Often it gives them the opportunity to do something that they wouldn’t otherwise get the opportunity to do (theatre trips, walking on Dartmoor, or catching the train to Exeter). Or it can help them to start to join in with local community activities.
We have also found that young carers and their families find it hard to get out together, so we have introduced regular family activities which are supported by Rotary locally. This for example has been family swims, (hiring of the Riviera Centre) which have been really popular, as well as some family bowling events and summer / Christmas events. These also mean that some of the parents are also able to get to know each other for mutual support.
John: Finally, is there a way Rotary can help?
Teresa: Rotary have been helpful in spreading awareness of young carer issues. Financially they can help towards some of the breaks and activities that young carer services can provide, or to help young carers to access other community services or school trips and residential stays. In Torbay we have also had some good practical help from some of the local Rotary groups, where we may, for example, have a minibus and driver provided for an activity. Those with the right knowledge and skills have organized walks on Dartmoor and barbeques. They have provided activities and food at our annual summer Family Fun Day. There are lots of opportunities and through building links with the local young carers groups specific ideas can be developed in different areas.
John: Many thanks Teresa for sharing with us