It's Not Easy Being a Young Carer but What's the Alternative?

10/06/2015 17:40 BST | Updated 10/06/2016 10:59 BST

Latisha is a 15 year old carer from London who took part in one of Create's arts programmes for young carers earlier this year. She was identified as a young carer when she was just six. Her mum damaged her spine in a road accident and has been in constant pain ever since so she requires help around the house. One of many young carers who feel there is a lack of awareness around carers' needs, Latisha took some time to tell us about the ups and downs of her caring role.

"When you're a carer, you can lose a sense of yourself. You spend all your time looking after someone else, which means that you're caring more about them and their wellbeing and forget about your own. But if I wasn't a young carer, I wouldn't have some of the friends I have now, so I've got to think about it in positive way. I have knowledge that other 15 year olds don't have. For example, if I was given £10 to make enough food for my family to last two days, I'd know how to budget it out; and I also might not have found out that I love cooking as much as I do. Now I'm studying catering and hospitality at college and hope to run my own bakery one day."

Last December, Create held a month-long exhibition of young carers' artwork at KPMG's headquarters in London and one of the featured carers was interviewed by a major news channel. After this was published online, several comments appeared suggesting that young people shouldn't be put in a position where they take on caring responsibilities. An implication was that being a 'young carer' is avoidable; but this completely overlooks the complexities of caring and the emotions that are integral to it.

A young carer is a son or daughter, brother or sister, grandson or granddaughter. Caring is part of all family life but young carers are required to give extra support, often inappropriate levels of care, which can have a negative impact on their wellbeing. Young carers already face barriers in accessing support: not seeking help for fear of family breakup is a common occurrence. No one should be made to feel ashamed to be a young carer, just as an unwell or disabled family member should never be made to feel guilty about their condition.

Although young carers are consistently found to be more sad, worried and stressed than their peers, more than half report feeling proud of themselves for handling such responsibility. Forty-two percent say that being a young carer makes them happy. Yes, being a young carer is extremely challenging at times, but it can also be rewarding and foster strong bonds between family members. Giving young carers the support to care both for others and themselves is paramount to their health and wellbeing, and can enable them to continue living with their families whilst maintaining their independence.

One way of doing that (though it is often overlooked or undervalued) is through the creative arts. Create works with carer services to design and deliver programmes that give young carers a break from their caring responsibilities. Creative workshops give them the chance to socialise with other young carers, which is important when 25% of young carers say they don't have enough people to talk to. They also give them the space to express themselves through music, dance, photography, sculpture, drama, film making or creative writing. Research around the therapeutic value of the creative arts is proliferating so why not harness the benefits of participating to shape the wellbeing of young carers?

If young carers are telling us that caring gives them feelings of anxiousness, loneliness, pride and happiness, then we need to be addressing the negatives rather than dismissing the positives. When we look at some of the challenges that can make being a young carer distressing (being bullied, feeling unsupported, a lack of strong relationships outside of the family home ), initiatives that focus on building trust and friendships between young people can't be underestimated in their social worth and creative programmes are extremely good at doing these things.

That said, young carers should not be there to pick up the slack where support for their unwell or disabled family members is lacking. Adequate services need to be provided so that no young person has to care for 50 hours plus a week (which 13,000 young people are currently doing). But living in a family where your brother has autism, your mum has depression or your dad has MS, there is a going to be an element of caring and additional support that takes place. Even if there is an adult carer in the home, it is likely that a child will assist in the care of their parent or sibling(s). Young carers are right to be proud - they do an amazing job. But for them to continue giving the care they want to give, their wellbeing needs to be our priority. Creative arts can ensure they feel a sense of achievement outside their caring role; their youthful creativity is nurtured; and their voices are heard.

Help provide creative opportunities to young carers and enable them to access the support they need by donating to Create.