Sharing the burden of Sheffield’s young carers

Laura Bartholomew is aged 17 and is a young carer
Laura Bartholomew is aged 17 and is a young carer
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Children younger than eight phoning ambulances, cooking meals and keeping their families together by providing emotional support does not sound like the reality of life today in a modern city.

But in Sheffield youngsters really are shouldering such burdens - on a worrying scale.

“It’s filling a gap that services should be in place to do,” said Laura Selby, deputy manager of the charity Sheffield Young Carers.

“It shouldn’t be falling on young children to be doing this, but sadly it does and what we’d argue is that children should have a choice in the amount of care they provide. But that choice isn’t there.”

Six thousand young people in Sheffield are caring for someone at home, while one in 12 children and teenagers are taking on ‘mid- to high-level’ care for an ill or disabled family member, according to research carried out on behalf of the project.

“We start working with children from the age of eight upwards, but we get referrals from people who are younger than that as well,” Laura said.

“They can be cooking tea, doing personal care, checking someone has been taking their medication, emotional care, accompanying people to places or staying with them if they’re not feeling well.

“Sometimes if they have a sibling with a disability they have to provide more self care, doing things for themselves as the parent has to look after their brother or sister. It can really range depending on the situation. Some people can remember from very young ages phoning ambulances, life or death situations.”

The charity works with around 200 young carers through its different projects, aimed at those aged eight to 25.

Among them is 17-year-old Rachel Bartholomew, from Stannington. She cares for her older sister, who suffers from anxiety and depression and seriously self-harms, as well as her mother, who has autism. Rachel has also spent a lot of time caring for her grandfather, who is partially sighted and deaf.

Sacrificing the chance of good GCSE grades has been a consequence of her caring role, the extent of which was only identified by a therapist whom Rachel visited to talk about her sister, who is 20.

“You don’t notice you’re doing it until it’s pointed out to you,” she said.

The care Rachel provides for her sister is mainly emotional, and she cooks and performs other tasks for her mother. Her grandfather, 76, lives alone.

“When I met the Sheffield Young Carers I realised there are those caring for people with greater problems than my sister, but caring as a whole should not be under-appreciated just because someone’s parent is worse off. It’s one same level, no matter who it is you’re caring for.

“When I found out about them I was quite relieved there were other people in the same boat as me.

“I didn’t feel as left out as I thought I did.”

The charity carries out targeted work in schools, as well as running projects on a citywide basis.

“We can come and see young people one-to-one where they get a worker they can talk to, get stuff off their chest and have a bit of time to themselves,” said Laura.

“Then we offer group work for different ages. They can meet other young people in a similar situation, which is a really big part of it - knowing you’re not on your own and there are people who understand.

“It’s about having a break, having fun, taking some time out and a chance to learn things that help build resilience, like practical skills and dealing with stress.”

Trips away to places such as London, as well as residential breaks at Whirlow Hall Farm, are offered too.

Laura said there is a strong ‘identification issue’ around being a young carer.

“A lot of young people don’t think of themselves as a carer and don’t know that there is support available.

“Rachel looks after her sister, and maybe it’s not shopping and cooking and cleaning for someone, but it’s all about checking that they’re OK, which is vast and a huge emotional responsibility.

“You never know day to day how they’re going to be.

“If you’ve seen someone in a bad way, that’s with you constantly and it’s very hard to get on with school and social life.

“But there is support and young people should not feel worried, or frightened and embarrassed if they let somebody know what’s happening.”

The organisation is constantly in need of funding.

Laura and the charity’s director of funding, Katie Borland, are part of a group of runners taking on Scotland’s Loch Ness Marathon - and its associated 5k and 10k runs - in the hope of raising at least £5,000.

An eight-strong team, who call themselves the Yorkshire Puddings and are all members of Beauchief Tennis Club, will also be heading to Inverness for the race next month.

l Visit http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/yorkshirepuddingsdoloch to donate.

l Log on to www.sheffieldyoungcarers.org.uk or call 0114 2584595 for more details.