Monday, May 4, 2009

BC Family Caregivers Week - May 9 - 13...

This week is Family Caregivers Week in BC and I am fortunate to be taking part in the Caregivers Program for the Family Caregivers' Network Society in Victoria on Friday and in the annual Caregivers Association of BC Caregivers Fair at Robson Square in Vancouver on Saturday.  It is always a privilege to speak to family caregivers and, in turn, to learn from their stories and experiences. I'm really looking forward to the weekend.

I think that Caregivers Week is a good time to remember that family caregiving is not just confined to middle aged women caring for aging parents, though that is certainly a large and growing segment of the caregiving population. We tend to forget that there are millions of young adults and children who are providing part time or full time care to grandparents, parents, siblings and, in some cases, to their own children. 

While countries like England have focused on the needs of "young carers" for several years, we in North America have been slower to acknowledge their important contribution to the stability of families coping with chronic and serious acute illnesses and injuries. These young people have all the needs of older carepartners plus the added needs of their own developmental stages.

As Carol Levine, director of the Families and Healthcare Project at United Hospital Fund and lead author on a study of young adult caregivers, said in 2005 - 

To provide any kind of meaningful assistance to young adult caregivers, who are
at a critical stage in their life and development, we need to carefully consider the
impact of their responsibilities on employment, education and social life. Services
developed for older women are not going to be appropriate for younger men and

She goes on to say that -

The young adults who are caregivers now are, we suggest, only the first wave
of the future. With social changes such as delayed childbearing and smaller
families, aging parents will have to look for help to children still in their 
formative years. The...grandparents currently raising one or more grandchildren
will need help when these children are in their twenties. We speculate that, in the
future , care recipients will be even older than they are now and caregivers will be 
even younger. What this may mean for a youth-oriented but aging society is a 
crucial, but an open, question.

As we move ahead in acknowledging and creating programs to support older adult carepartners, let us not forget the needs of this younger and at least equally vulnerable group.    

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