THE BLOG
27/12/2017 10:17 GMT | Updated 27/12/2017 10:17 GMT

Adulting Is Hard, Especially For Children Caring For Family Members This Christmas

To adult [verb]

To perform duties or actions typically associated with being an adult

E.g. I'm so tired, I don't want to adult today.

Adulting is hard, as the millennials might say, even for fully-fledged grown-ups.

We work, we run our households, we look after our children, we manage our finances and I’m sure everyone has felt at one time or another that occasionally we can struggle to cope.

Life is difficult and can be made even more so if it throws a few curve balls at you – like looking after a family member with a long-term illness or disability.

Most adults would struggle under this much pressure so it’s profoundly unsurprising that it takes its toll on the army of children and young people caring for their relatives.

It's estimated that there are around 700,000 of these incredible young people in the UK today. Some are as young as five when they start caring for a family member.

They cook, clean, administer medication, do the washing, shop and help to look after their siblings too. And this is on top of keeping up with their school work.

Many of these children take on all the stresses and strains of running a household at a very young age and this inevitably has an impact on their school attendance, their emotional health and their future.

Christmas stress

Add Christmas into the mix – which can be a stressful time for adults but should be full of magic and delight for children – and the pressure increases.

As part of Barnardo’s recent research, children and young people accessing our young carers’ services told us that Christmas was an especially hard time of year for them.

Half of our young carers said they thought school holidays were more difficult than other children’s because of their caring and 40% said that Christmas was more difficult.

They said that the stress of Christmas and the worry about money put much more pressure on them, and their families, than other children.

One girl told us that every Christmas she just could not wait until it was over because much of the additional work fell to her. Some children said they were responsible for buying presents for their siblings.

While most children are making choices about which present to play with first or which film to watch, these children and young people are taking on household chores into the early hours and worrying about whether their mum’s medication has been taken on time.

Emotional impact

Many talked about the emotional impact this had on them – leading them to feel isolated, anxious and depressed.

But we also know that many young carers are extremely proud to care for their families, despite the negative impact it can have on them and their future.

Our young carers' services support young people who look after a relative who has a disability, illness, mental health condition, or a drug or alcohol problem.

Barnardo's project workers do all they can to make sure that this impact is lessened, that the family is receiving all the support it's entitled to and that the child is listened to and cared for.

But austerity has meant local authorities have had to cut back on adult social care and the thresholds for support are now higher than ever. The result is children are picking up the pieces and more and more young people are providing care to their relatives than ever before.

Children all over the country are undertaking in excess of 30 hours of caring a week – that’s the equivalent of a full-time job.

There will always be young carers, but with proper support and guidance they don’t have to trade off their future to help those they love.

Looking after their family members is something that our young carers are incredibly proud of but it shouldn’t be at the expense of their childhoods or their futures.

What's vitally important is that they have the opportunity to occasionally stop adulting and just be a child, especially at Christmas.

  • This Christmas Barnardo’s is fundraising to give young carers both life changing support and a bit of Christmas magic. Visit donate.barnardos.org.uk to donate.