Young carers, aged under ten years old, are regularly suffering broken sleep in order to care for incapacitated family members, a new study has revealed.
Nearly half (46%) of the UK’s child carers are getting up in the night to perform duties for people in their household who need their help, according to the charity Carers Trust.
Dania Gloureiro, 8, is a carer for her mother Isobel who has a rare cancer called Pecoma, which forms in the body’s soft tissue. Doctors have predicted she has a life expectancy of just six months.
Dania told HuffPost UK she regularly shares her mum’s bed to check on her during the night: ″She doesn’t even know I’m doing it but I’m awake because I’m worrying about her,” she said.
“Mum tends to sleep pretty badly so most nights I just get in her bed so I don’t keep having to get up to check that she’s still okay,” Dania explained. ”Then I know I’m right there in case she needs me.”
“The tablets make her very drowsy and she sleeps a lot. She has a fever sometimes. At night I grab magazines and fan her to cool down while she is sleeping.
“When she is really in pain I just lie down next to her and she says hearing my heartbeat helps with the pain. Sometimes I massage her legs if they are sore or I get her her crutches or wheelchair ready.
“I do what I can to help but I think mostly I am there to just cheer mum up when she is feeling down.”
I’m awake because I’m worrying about her..." Dania, 8
Giles Meyer, CEO of Carers Trust said: “It is a tragic situation that children who have barely started school are losing sleep. which is so significant to their development.
“They are being exposed to, and handling, issues such as their siblings or parents having panic attacks or epileptic seizures when they should be getting important rest.”
This nighttime burden is in addition to daytime activities, which 80% of young carers do every day of the week. These include, one in 10 children going to the supermarket on their own to buy food for their family.
The charity says the data highlights the “shocking amount” that children between the ages of five and seven are required to do.
Another young carer, Lottie Fox, 22, has cared for her brother Harvey, 19, since he was born, and she was just two years old: “I’ve always kind of acted as a second mother to him,” she said.
Harvey has Angelman syndrome, a complex genetic disorder that primarily affects the nervous system. He also has a poor sleep schedule, waking up every night around 3am and wanting to start his day at around 5am.
“Sleep has always been one of the major issues in my household,” Lottie said.
“I was always a light sleeper as a child as I knew there was the possibility of needing to offer my parents a hand with getting Harvey back to sleep, especially if he was having an epileptic seizure. I often slept with an audio book or earplugs to drown out the noise of him playing with his toys throughout the night.”
She remembers being tired at school and struggling to focus as a result.
“I would sometimes come home after school and have a nap, which then left me less time to do homework or see friends,” she said.
“I would feel guilty doing this as I knew my parents had even worse sleep patterns than I did, and they were both working and non-stop caring for Harvey. I felt it was my duty to help.”
Carers Trust helps young carers and young adult carers (up to the age of 24) to cope with their caring role through specialised services.The charity works closely with a network of 150 local services and partners across the UK. Carers Trust has now set up a Text To Give service whereby members of the public can text YCAD18 £5 or £10 to 70070 to donate to Carers Trust.