A 12-year-old girl has told of her role as a young carer for her autistic brother - as a children’s charity promotes a resources toolkit for Armed Forces’ families.
Grace, aged 12, is one of the many young people from a military family who acts as a carer for a loved one in the family – and one of more than 800,000 children and young people across the UK, some as young as five, who are caring for family members with additional needs.
She not only cares for her autistic brother Adam but also looks after her other brother Jacob to support her parents when they have other errands or responsibilities to take care of.
However, Grace is not fond of the term ‘carer’ herself, saying:
“I find the term to be very formal, almost as if referring to someone who’s in no way related to Adam.”
Grace also helps Adam with his homework, packed lunch and helps get him ready for school – but she does not think of herself as a carer, more just someone who loves her family and is willing to help out.
She is not yet a teenager but is already taking on responsibilities that would usually fall to an adult parent or guardian were it not for the demands of modern working family life, particularly in military families.
Grace spoke to Army&You magazine - the Army Families Federation's flagship publication - as it was revealed that data obtained in a study by The Children’s Society on young carers in the Armed Forces indicated that there are at least 512 young carers in military families, although this figure is thought to be underestimated.
Anyone under 18 who regularly helps care for a family member with an illness, additional need or disability, is considered to be a young carer.
Care can include a range of activities that support someone such as cooking, cleaning and helping someone wash and dress.
Anyone aged 16-25 will be considered an adult young carer.
Research suggests many children and young people do not think of themselves young carers, despite caring for a family member.
Grace, speaking to Army&You, said: “I’m just a sister trying to help my younger brother. Sure, it isn’t easy – and sometimes we fight like cat and dog – but it’s also a joy as he is so clever, funny and super talented.
“I’m not ashamed to say Adam has autism because we are family and I love him.”
The impact of caring
Caring can impact on general and mental health, education, life opportunities and social life, say those working with young carers.
Research suggests that young carers are more likely to be bullied in school and miss an average of 48 days of lessons each year.
Young adult carers are more likely not to be in education, employment or training.
For young carers in the Armed Forces community, there is an added impact of frequent moves, changes of school and long periods of separation from the serving parent.
Grace has experienced some negativity herself, saying: “When I was joining a new school, there were many questions and rude remarks from children about Adam and his autism.
“Overall, I’m not embarrassed to talk openly about his condition, he’s absolutely remarkable.”
The Children and Families Act details the rights of young carers and states that local authorities must assess whether a young carer requires support and identify their needs.
If under 18, young carers have a right to a carer’s assessment.
Support in schools
The Young Carers in Schools (YCiS) scheme is run jointly by The Children’s Society and Carers Trust and aims to make it easy for schools to identify and support their young carers, and be rewarded for good practice.
The Children’s Society provides tools, an e-newsletter, training for professionals and an award, while the Carers Trust’s step-by-step guide contains resources for leaders, teachers and non-teaching staff.
An important element of the YCiS scheme is that it encourages a whole-school approach, which ensures a supportive and non-stigmatising ethos.
Armed Forces young carers may struggle to tell their peers about their caring role, or the impact that having a serving family member has on them, so by encouraging this sort of atmosphere, a young person is more likely to seek help, say charities.
Grace said that she does not ask for support because she feels many people do not understand how to help or are not aware of disabilities such as autism.
She said: “I feel that many people only notice disabilities that can be recognised easily.
“If I needed support, I would probably ask my parents, find a group of people that know what it’s like, or talk to one girl I know at school who also has an autistic brother.”
One outcome of The Children’s Society’s report is the creation of a steering group for Armed Forces young carers, which will help identify and support their unique needs.
Specific resources and a toolkit are also under development.
Several initiatives have also been developed to support carers in the Armed Forces community.
Jill Baines, charity executive of Andover Young Carers in Hampshire, said: “When I arrived here, a lot of young carers with military connections were hidden, even if identified and supported by us or other organisations, links hadn’t been established with the Army Welfare Service (AWS) or veteran charities.
“We’ve had an initial meeting with AWS to raise awareness of our work, and we hope to increase access to our services. I’m designing some marketing materials to send to local schools with military children.”
Wiltshire and Suffolk also have specific ‘military families leads’ providing support, while NHS England has appointed a leadership support manager who oversees carers from armed forces communities.
A version of this article initially appeared in the latest edition of the Army&You magazine - the Army Families Federation's flagship publication.
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