The Simon Heng column

In the recent report by The Education Network, there are about
175,000 young carers in this country looking after older relatives,
disabled siblings and, mainly, disabled parents. About one third
are involved in intimate personal care and 2 per cent care for more
than 50 hours a week.

The authors of the survey claim that many young carers go
unrecognised by the caring agencies, and even schools. One fifth
miss school frequently, they are more likely to under-achieve
academically and are more likely to be bullied.

As I am a disabled parent, I remembered the decisions I made
when I acquired my disability: to be as good a parent as I could be
and to ensure that my children did not become responsible for my
care. I believe that they should take responsibility within the
family, but not beyond their emotional maturity. And personal care
for a disabled parent is, in my opinion, beyond their emotional

Being responsible for someone’s care at an early age has
measurable consequences in terms of educational attainment, but
there must also be effects on the child’s emotional development.
Where is the space for developing and exploring peer relationships,
making mistakes, rebellion? Why would parents impose such
responsibility on their children when they risk damaging their

I can think of two reasons. First, the shame of publicly
admitting that the family cannot function “properly”; second, the
fear that, if they admit they cannot look after themselves, the
family will be forcibly broken up. You may think these fears are
outdated, but there are many people who still have them. If parents
have these fears, their children may (naturally) share their
beliefs, and become willing participants.

There are families like this known to every social services
department. Young carers, when recognised, are supported: I argue
that they should be gently relieved of their caring
responsibilities and allowed some kind of childhood and their
parents helped to realise that it is no shame to seek help when you
need it. It’s working for me.


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