Hundreds of young people, aged eight to 18, across Falkirk district regularly provide support by helping to look after their mum, dad, brother, sister or grandparent who needs their care due to disability, physical or mental health issues.
For some it may mean helping with household tasks, such as cooking, cleaning or shopping, but for others it may mean having to help with personal care, such as getting mum or dad out of bed, washed and dressed.
It could be that because their sibling has a disability, they don’t get the attention from their parents that their friends enjoy and they have to help look after their brother or sister. It may also mean that they don’t get to attend events or just have the free time that their contemporaries enjoy.
There are an estimated 29,000 young carers in Scotland – four per cent of the under 16 population.
The Carers Census undertaken in 2018/19 discovered that young carers, aged under 18, made up 12 per cent of the individual carers identified.
Thankfully, for local youngsters who find themselves in a caring role there is support for them through the Falkirk and Clackmannanshire Carers Centre.
With offices in Falkirk’s Bank Street, as well as Alloa, there is a team of people ready to provide them with an escape route, even for a few hours, from their responsibilities.
Many youngsters are involved in the Group Support sessions, all age group specific, which give them a break from their caring role for a short period of time and the opportunity to meet other young carers of a similar age who can understand how they feel.
They get the chance to enjoy lots of different activities, including sports and games, and arts and crafts.
On the evening we joined them, a group of youngsters, aged eight to 11 years, were enjoying a roller disco in Bo’ness Recreation Centre.
Alice Wadkin, Young Carers Involvement Worker, said: “We try to come up with a variety of activities to suit different interests. Some times we’ll take them to a restaurant for a meal because that’s the sort of treat that they often don’t get the opportunity to enjoy.
"But we’ve also been to the dry sky slope, trampolining and outdoor parks where they can forget their responsibilities or a while.”
Her colleague, Jayne Lennox, Senior Young Carer Worker, said: “The groups allow them to forge friendships with others of the same age who know what they are experiencing and that isn't always easy for a young carer.
“A lot of youngsters are referred by schools or it can be through social or health workers. But anyone can refer a young person they think would benefit from coming along to our sessions.”
Ten-year-old Isabella said she had been part of the Young Carers Group since just before lockdown.
"I help care for my mum and I like helping her. I enjoy coming to the Young Carers Group because it is a lot of fun going places and making new friends.”
The pandemic and subsequent lockdown me the group, like so many organisations had to hold meetings on Zoom rather than face to face.
And while the isolation of lockdown was difficult for us all, for some young carers it had an even bigger impact.
Jayne added: “For many of the youngsters there was the anxiety of bringing Covid back into the home where perhaps it could have had serious consequences for their family members.
“But thankfully we are not getting out and about again and they can enjoy events such as roller skating.”
The Carers Centre can also offer one to one support for a short period of time if they recognise that a young carer is struggling with a particular issue.
There are also volunteer befrienders who can be linked with young carers to enable them to participate in a range of activities, which can increase self-esteem and general wellbeing.
However, they believe that most benefit from the chance to spend time and make friends with people their own age.
Alice added: “This year’s Young Carers Action Day has the theme ‘Reducing Isolation’. It’s a good opportunity to raise awareness and get more support for young carers.
"The Carers Act 2018 recognised more young carers have responsibilities which impact on them. Every young carers has the legal right to a Young Carers Statement which is a personalised plan where they can tell of their hopes and aspirations for the future, as well as what support is needed to allow them to continue in their care role.”
To find out more about the Young Carers Group or the Carers Centre visit here or call 01324 611510.