Friday, May 18, 2012

Resources for Kids Who Are Caregivers ...

Hi everyone - Happy Victoria Day long weekend! I want to start off the weekend with some news about a great new-to-me resource for children and teens who are family caregivers.

I have written in the past about a most vulnerable and invisible population of family caregivers - children who care for a family member who is ill, frail, disabled or addicted. At that time, the only services I could find for their support were those in the United Kingdom's Young Carers programs.

That is until this past Thursday when, I'm delighted to say, I came across a great story on CNN (online) about one of their 2012 CNN Heros, Dr Connie Siskowski, and her organization for child caregivers, the American Association of Caregiving Youth.

The role of caregiver is one that many children carry out with little or no support. According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 22% of American dropouts leave school to care for a family member. If family caregiving is stressful for adults, how much more so for these children and teens? With brains still developing and vulnerable to loss and trauma, with constant worries about what's going on at home while they're trying to learn at school, and with all the same physical, emotional and spiritual stressors that affect adult caregivers, it's no wonder that these kids drop out.

Dr Siskowski, a registered nurse in Florida and once a child caregiver herself, has made it her mission to bring this invisible population to light and has been doing so since 2002.  Through her non-profit organization, and with the help of many partner organizations and community volunteers, Dr Siskowski provides child caregivers with an amazingly comprehensive set of services including:

  • In school - skills-building classes, support groups, lunch and learn sessions, and community service hours awarded for time spent caring for a loved one
  • At home - linking families with resources, providing computers, tutoring and solutions for special needs
  • Out of school - overnight camp, fishing, dining, educational and fun activities 

Here in Canada, where about 12% of high school youth report being young caregivers, we now have the beginnings of a support organization in Young Carers Canada, an outgrowth of the Alzheimer Society of Ontario. This group is working toward registration as a not-for-profit, national organization and has three new projects coming into being in St Catharine's and Toronto, Ontario and in Cowichan, (Vancouver Island), BC. **

It will take some time for these programs to become established and for supports to be developed across the country so, in the meantime, what about trying a small support project, yourself, this weekend? Try making a list of all the adults and children you know who have disabilities, or chronic or life-limiting illnesses. Do any of them have children or teens in their families who might be involved in caregiving? If they do, is there a way that you could help them find a little respite?

Perhaps you could take them on an outing with your kids, take in a delicious meal, or drop over with a movie and fixings for an ice cream sundae, or stay with their loved one so they can have an afternoon off with their friends ...  The possibilities are endless and any one of them could make such a difference to a young person caring for a loved one and, perhaps, growing up too soon.

(**  Ending the Silence  is an excellent new video created by the Cowichan Youth Caregivers project to describe the needs of youth caregivers and how they can be met when the silence is broken.) 

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