Young carers on how lockdown is 'piling on pressure'
- Credit: Archant
Lockdown has increased the burden on young carers who are struggling to manage homeschooling with looking after isolating loved ones.
Around 11,000 children and teenagers in Norfolk look after family members, helping with everything from getting them out of the shower to cooking and childcare.
Classed as vulnerable children in the government guidance and encouraged to attend school before lockdown, school closures have led to a lack of routine increasing pressure at home and robbing them of somewhere they "can feel safe".
Charities says young carers, who might have to look after their parents or siblings, are unable to get enough support, and are asking for them to be considered a priority group for the government’s laptop scheme.
Maria Plumb, service manager at Voluntary Norfolk, said: “It is proving very difficult for young carers in lockdown.
“What we found in the first lockdown was it was better for them to be in school because otherwise they lose their support network, either through their peers, teachers or pastoral care, and they just don’t get a break from caring when they are at home 24-7.
“Where schools can accommodate them safely it would be good to be back in the classroom, but if they can’t, or if parents are really anxious or vulnerable, what we really need is these young carers given the priority to have digital access.”
James Simmons, 17, has been caring for his mum, Clair, since he was just seven. Lockdown has seen him split his time between being the main carer for his mum in Hingham and looking after his nan as well, while also studying for his A-levels at Wymondham High School.
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He said: “During the last lockdown my mum was in hospital and I found that very difficult because my brother came to live with me because he isn’t old enough to be on his own.
“It was very tough because I was juggling not only doing school work but also going to see mum at hospital and keeping the house.
“I’m unsure whether I will be going back to school because I’m currently living with my nan and she is shielding.
“Going into school gave me that break, that normality. Since lockdown it is so difficult because I have not had that routine or space. Online education just doesn’t work for young carers.”
Twelve Norfolk youth organisations recently co-signed a powerful open letter highlighting the challenges young people, particularly those in education, have faced throughout the pandemic.
As one of the youngest carers interviewed, 12-year-old Izzy, said: “People don’t realise the entirety of my life is me being a mini adult, but it’s not a pick and choose the time sort of thing.”
Dr Kate Blake-Holmes, of UEA’s centre for research on children and families, and involved in support organisation Caring Together and its lottery-funded Norfolk Young Carers Forum project, said: “The increase of pressure and stress for young carers was palpable within many of the interviews.
“Participants described not being able to ‘get space’ to manage their stress, with some describing school as the only place where they could get ‘breathing space’.”
+ Young carers wanting support or advice can call the Carers Matter Norfolk/Young Carers & Families advice line on 0800 0831 148 or visit youngcarersmatternorfolk.org
Lockdown experiences of Norfolk young carers
Jasmine Broom, 16, lives in Bradwell and normally attends Cliff Park Ormiston Academy.
“It’s really tough juggling school and being a carer. I care for my mum and little brother. It is hard to get everything sorted then get on to the online lessons.
“I have to do the shopping, bathing my brother, getting mum dressed and cooking dinner.
“I feel I am falling behind at school because of it. There is help to a certain degree but sometimes not enough when needed.
“Before lockdown I was in school but I sometimes have to have days off to help mum out when she is having her bad days.”
Leah Butler, 16, lives in Great Yarmouth and is a carer for a nine-year-old brother as well as normally attending East Coast College.
“Since lockdown learning at home is a lot harder and feels like it is piling a lot more on at the same time as caring for my brother. It’s quite a lot of responsibility.
“It can be a real struggle some days. When I was able to go to school it can feel like a break, just not being in the house. To just go out and see friends means you can relax.
“When I’m trying to listen to the work I have got to do my little brother can start screaming or want me to look after him.
“I can’t do everything at once, I have to try to do my work online and look after him at the same time.”