January 25th is Young Carers Awareness Day and we’ve been asking some of the young and young adult carers we support in Norfolk to tell us what life is like as a young carer.

Figures show there are more than 5,000 young carers in Norfolk although that number is thought to be much higher*.

A young carer is anyone who looks after a family member or friend who has a physical disability, a mental health condition, a learning difficulty or a drug or alcohol misuse problem. There is likely to be at least one young carer in every school or college classroom in the county.

Most young carers have more responsibilities and pressures to deal with than other young people. For example, when they’re at home, they might help by doing the cooking or the washing. They might provide physical care – helping a parent to get out of bed or to get dressed. They may look after siblings, manage medication and provide emotional support. All of this whilst going to school or college and dealing with the everyday challenges of growing up. On the outside, these young people look no different to their peers but they are coping with things many adults would find hard. Here’s what our young carers would like you to know about their lives on Young Carers Awareness Day 2018.

1. I’ve had to grow up more quickly than my friends.
“Being a young carer helps you to grow up fast and understand the hardships in life more than most people our age can.”
“It’s a lot more stressful than other young people realise.”
“I’m not a ‘normal’ teenager. I know what’s right and wrong – for example I don’t want to drink or smoke.”
“I act a lot older than my friends.”
“I feel like I’ve matured and become more independent than my friends.”

2No one knew I was a carer, not even me!
“I kept that I was a carer to myself and never told anyone.”
“A lot of carers don’t realise they are carers.”

3. I have gained lots of skills.
“I have had to take responsibility for things I never thought I would.”
“I know all about wheelchairs and scooters!”
“When people compliment how caring you are, it means a lot.”
“We think about who we care for with the same worry of a parent for a child.”
“I feel very useful helping my mum but I worry about her when I go out.”

4. Caring can be rewarding but it’s hard.
“I find caring rewarding knowing that I’m doing something good.”
“I am always tired.”
“Caring does take a toll on your well-being but it can be manageable.”
“I am stressed and tired.”
“I enjoy helping and I want people to acknowledge the hard work we do.”
“People don’t realise you’re always on alert – you sleep with one eye open.”
“When we tell you we’re young carers, don’t pity us, it can make us feel worthless, upset and embarrassed which no-one would wish to feel when they’re young.”

5. Keeping up with school work and a social life is tricky.
“I miss out on social opportunities.”
“I don’t get out much mainly due to being at home caring. When I do it’s often just for a short time at weekends.”
“Keeping up with college work is hard.”
“I am behind with my course.”
“I’m always worrying about mum and this then affects my sleep and college work.”
“You sacrifice a lot – social life and sometimes free time for yourself.”
“I find it hard to get out and make friends.”

Many of the young people we spoke to felt strongly that young carers deserve more recognition, which would in turn make their lives easier.

If you know a young adult carer who would benefit from some help and support, please contact Norfolk Family Carers. Our Big Lottery funded project, Transitions, is designed to help young carers aged 16-24 years reach their full potential in life. We can offer: someone to talk to, regular social opportunities, family support and advice. For more information, please call 01603 219924.

*2011 Census data on Young Carers in Norfolk: http://www.norfolkinsight.org.uk/jsna/childhood-health-wellbeing/vulnerable-groups/young-carers

A BBC study, with assistance from the Princess Royal Trust for carers, surveyed 4,029 pupils in ten secondary schools in 2010 showing number of young carers could be much higher than previously thought: http://www.bbc.com/news/education-11757907