Young carers are children and young people under the age of 18 who provide care for a parent or relative in the community, usually within their own home.
They can perform the most personal and intimate of tasks for their parents or other family members, often without any help or support from welfare agencies. Many children provide care at great personal expense - they are deprived of their childhood, many miss out on educational opportunities, few have established friendships or other support networks. Young carers are at greater risk of not completing their formal education and are less able to enter into higher education reducing their life chances and increasing their social exclusion.
This was the central theme of the Eurocarers’ workshop held in Hamburg on the 18-19 February 2016 and hosted by Hanneli Döhner, Vice-President of Eurocarers, on behalf of wir pflegen. Some 29 representatives from 10 countries took part in the event, a sign of the interest and expertise of Eurocarers members in the topic.
Young carers are often hidden, forgotten or ignored by policy makers and service providers at national and local levels said Stecy Yghemonos, Eurocarers Director. They do not feature in the literature on community care, family care and children’s rights; and young carers’ experiences and needs are not explicitly recognised in social and family policies. The long-term implications of caregiving responsibilities on young carers’ health or psycho-social development need to be further documented. But it is clear is that young carers are too often ignored, even neglected, in a majority of EU countries.
The contributions made during the workshop emphasised that the challenges facing young carers and the policy responses they generate (or not) are very comparable across the European Union. Besides the urgent need to collect and generate better and more comparable data on the situation of young carers and the typology of support they can benefit from, the event recalled that young carers are carers with particular needs. As such, specific awareness-raising and communication strategies should be developed to inform policy-makers and stakeholders that young carers must receive specific attention. Young carers often see themselves as “the invisible glue of society”. In its upcoming programme of activities, the Eurocarers network is determined to shed light on the challenges they face and the promising practices that exist to overcome these. The programme will include an active participation of the Eurocarers secretariat and members during the 2nd International Young Carers Conference, to be held from 28-31 May 2017 in Malmö, Sweden.
The Conference will challenge the international community to focus on the issues of children as next of kin and young carers. It aims to support society to take responsibility and actualise the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and, in particular, when a child has a family member who is seriously ill or has an addiction or mental illness or experiences bereavement in their family.