Meet James - the Norfolk teenager who has been caring for his mum ever since he was seven years old

Young carer James Simmons with his mum Claire & younger brother Liam. Picture: Ian Burt

Young carer James Simmons with his mum Claire & younger brother Liam. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

Most young people look to their parents for support. However for one Norfolk youngster, the tables were very much turned when his mother became ill.

Young carer James Simmons with his mum Claire & younger brother Liam. Picture: Ian Burt

Young carer James Simmons with his mum Claire & younger brother Liam. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

While most people think of teenagers as playing computer games or socialising with friends, 14-year-old James Simmons is the sole carer for his mum Clair, who suffers from a range of health issues including ME, CFS, fibromyalgia, chronic depression and borderline personality disorder.

On top of caring for her, James also looks after his 10-year-old brother - meaning that he has to fit in his homework and studies at Wymondham High School around running the household.

Cooking, housework and making sure his mum takes the right medicine are just some of the responsibilities he has to fit in.

But while James finds the weight of being a carer challenging, it has become part of who he is - so much so it now seems normal to him.

Young carer James Simmons with his mum Claire & younger brother Liam. Picture: Ian Burt

Young carer James Simmons with his mum Claire & younger brother Liam. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt


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'I do get very tired at the end of the day,' he said.

'I don't know how I fit my homework in. Where I can I will.'

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Lack of space is also a challenge, as the young carer lives with his mum and brother in a two-bedroom house in Hingham, near Wymondham.

When his younger brother goes to bed, James has no room of his own for some well-earned time to himself.

He admits that he has had to grow up a lot more quickly than others but says it means he is extra close to his mum and brother.

But, despite the difficulties, there is help and support.

'The school is very supportive as long as I do my best,' James said. 'There is not enough support in most schools. My friends in the young carers group don't have the support I have.'

Now his brother is a bit older, he can help out too with some of the more basic things - although the cooking last month didn't go too well.

'I am a lot closer to my mother and my brother. We have conversations that most families wouldn't have,' James said.

'It's a positive but I can tell when it's time to go to my young carers group - I come out feeling I can do another month.'

James believes there can be more support for young carers, saying: 'There needs to be more education. There isn't any hint on the curriculum about young carers and what they do.'

His mum Clair described her life as a rollercoaster and says she is very proud of her boys.

'Guilt is a big issue for me,' she said.

'You don't have children to have them work for you and look after you, and do the things that you or a partner should be doing.

'I am very proud of the boys. They are very academic and are still achieving at school along with the additional things they have to do. We are a team of three.'

Sometimes the mother-of-two is having such a bad day, she does the school run and then comes home and won't go out again.

Last year she suffered a breakdown - she was hearing voices and self-harming - and the boys had to go and live with their grandparents for a while -

Crafting is her therapy and her younger son crafts too, while James enjoys music, drama and sound engineering.

The embattled mum said: 'Thankfully I have a very good relationship with my boys but it is a constant fight to get support. Young carers are there, they get ignored. It's just free labour.

'If the government provided for a carer they would have to be given a room, a wage and some free time.'

• For more on working in care, see our special supplement in your EDP on Tuesday. Norfolk Carers is the funded organisation to support carers in Norfolk, delivered through the charity Norfolk Carers Support. Call the advice line on 0808 808 9876.

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