Across the UK there are now 6.5 million people acting as carers for family and friends, a figure that is expected to rise to 9 million in our lifetime, but it is not only adults carrying this huge burden of care.
The most recent UK census recorded 178,000 young carers (aged under 18) in England and Wales and an additional 17,000 in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
And the average age of a young carer in Britain is just 12-years-old, according to children’s charity Barnardo’s.
A child may become a young carer as the result of a family member’s sickness, disability, mental health problems, or the misuse of drugs or alcohol in the home.
A spokesperson for charity Young Minds told HuffPost UK that as a result, a young carer’s childhood can be very different to that of their peers.
“On top of providing emotional support to the person they are caring for they may also have to learn how to nurse them or look after their personal needs like bathing and dressing,” they explained.
So to raise awareness on Carer’s Rights Day (24 November), four young carers supported by the charity Carers Trust, have spoken to HuffPost UK about what others can do to help them in their everyday lives.
Acknowledge there is a constant weight you are carrying..."
Offer a hand with everyday tasks.
Dania, 8, has cared for her mother “for as long as she can remember” as her mum has had cancer for nearly a decade.
“What has been a big help to us is our neighbour who offers to take me to school or pick me up if mum is too tired,” she said.
“The neighbour could easily have not bothered to get to know us, but she made the effort and just a little bit of help here and there makes all the difference to our day-to-day lives.”
Acknowledge the stress young carers face.
Becky, 16, cares for three generations of her family and is currently also juggling schoolwork with her dream to become a professional musician.
Her sister suffers with heart failure, her mum has fibromyalgia and arthritis, and her recently bereaved grandma struggles to walk.
“The best thing strangers and friends can do is to recognise and acknowledge there is a constant weight you are carrying that they cannot possibly comprehend,” she said.
Allow a little leniency in other parts of their life.
Sophie, 12, and her younger brother Ben, 11, look after their mum Hannah who has a rare immune system disorder that badly affects her breathing.
Sophie says the one thing that had the biggest impact on their lives was when their teachers started understanding their commitments outside of school.
“Suddenly teachers started understanding why we never had home work in on time, why we were always late,” she said.
“Without people knowing what’s going on, then we would just get punished for those things, but now the teachers just get it and we don’t have to carry the stress of school as well as the stress of home.”
Give them respite.
Josie, 12, cares for her two younger sisters who are severely autistic and unable to walk by themselves. She helps by pushing their wheelchairs and assisting her mother when they have to go out at weekends.
“Life at home is quite full on so I guess the biggest thing that helps for me is when we get to have a break,” Josie said. “Carers Trust Cambridgeshire offer us that opportunity from time-to-time when we go on outings with them.
“It just makes all the difference when you can just be you for a while without having to think about someone else depending on you.”