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Real Voices: A young carer talks stress, balance and activism

Max became a young carer when she was seven years old. In this week’s Real Voices she describes the toll that balancing care responsibilities with the rest of her life has taken, and her move into politics and activism in an effort to make positive changes for young carers across the country. 

Becoming a young carer 

I’ve always helped out around the house, and then my dad became quite ill when I was seven, meaning that he had to go into hospital. He ended up having lots of health problems such as diabetes and issues with one of his legs. I had to step up and help out around the house a bit more. Additionally, my brother is autistic and has a heart condition. He had an operation on his heart after my dad was ill, so my mum was at the hospital all the time with my brother, which then meant I had to start caring for my dad. I was eleven at the time. My dad’s leg was amputated shortly after, so all of these factors together meant that my role as a carer became more and more significant during my teen years. 

I normally start my day with housework. I clean and do laundry, do the ironing, and then make breakfast and lunch for my dad and brother. I go out to get the shopping and pick up any medication for my dad and brother, and then I’ll help administer the medication as well.

I also provide emotional support for my mum. I’m the only person that understands what she’s going through as a fellow carer, and vice versa, so we try to be there for each other. I’ve just finished school, but it was really hard to balance my caring responsibilities when I was studying, especially when I was doing my exams. It was tricky to find time to revise as my mum also works, so when she was out at work I was the only one at home able to care for my dad and brother. It takes a toll when you’re trying to find that quiet time to study and then suddenly someone needs to be fed and someone else needs to be dressed, it can be really stressful.

Moving into activism

I’ve worked on a number of campaigns with Carers Trust Scotland. I attended the 2022 Scottish Young Carers Festival alongside Carers Trust Scotland’s Young Carer and Young Adult Carer Advisory Group and helped to conduct peer research with attendees. We found that a lot of young carers feel guilty about taking breaks and taking time for themselves. Our campaign #RightToRest is a reaction to our findings, and calls on local authorities to make their short break services statements (which give information on the services available for unpaid carers and the people they care for) more accessible and youth-friendly. A lot of these statements are so long and difficult to decipher, just paragraph after paragraph with long complicated sentences that no fourteen year-old who is balancing school with caring responsibilities is going to understand.

For Young Carers’ Action Day I attended Parliament, where I highlighted that 56% of young carers said that the cost of living crisis is always or usually affecting them and their family. I also talked about the changes that have been made to the Carers’ Support Payment, as the full-time study rule has been removed. However, there is still a barrier in that if you’re aged 16-19 and you’re not in advanced education full-time you do not qualify for the Carers’ Support Payment. We’re currently campaigning to get this changed.

I’ve also recently put a motion to the Scottish Youth Parliament asking that guidance teachers receive young carer training, so that no young carer goes unrecognised at school and left without support. This is something that happened to me. During the first two years of high school I would talk to one of the guidance teachers about my care responsibilities and she never picked up on the fact that I was a young carer. It wasn’t until the Young Carers Service actually came into the school and identified me as a young carer to the teacher that she even realised, meaning that I had gone two years at school without proper support. 

I came to be a member of the Scottish Youth Parliament (MSYP) as a representative for Carers Trust because two teachers at school put some information on our school Teams page about the elections. I had no idea what it was, so I went and spoke to them. They said that Carers Trust Scotland had a position available, so I decided to apply. I campaigned with the teachers’ help and they were really supportive of me and helped me build confidence. I’ve been a MSYP for about a year and a half, and it’s been so amazing for me. I’ve made so many friends that I never would have got to know, and gotten to do so many things that I never would have been able to do. I want to do nursing at university, but my experience at SYP has made me realise that I could also go into politics at some point in the future, but we’ll have to wait and see. 

Advice for other young carers

I want every young carer out there to know that they are so appreciated for everything they do. If they’re struggling they should absolutely get in touch with a young carers service if they aren’t already. My service has been so amazing, and has helped me so much at school in terms of pushing for me to get extra support for exams. You can message them at any time and they will give you any support that they can, so do lean on them if you need. 

I think the government needs to recognise carers a lot more. There needs to be more accessible support, especially that which is youth-focused. No young carer has time to sit and read a complicated nineteen-page short breaks service statement on a council’s website, and they shouldn’t have to do this in order to access the proper support.

There also needs to be more training in schools on what young carers are. Not every young carer is going to be able to tell their school about their status, so teachers must be trained to recognise when their pupil is a carer so that they can support them. If schools use the resources available which help them to identify and help young carers then they wouldn’t fall through the cracks.