Meet our young people who show a caring side

Statistics show there are 34,000 people under the age of 25 years old caring for a friend or family member with an illness, disability or chronic condition. Among school-aged children, there are two young carers in every classroom.

Messenger Community News spoke with three young carers who have been taking part in the "3-legged challenge" to raise money so that other young people can enjoy some respite from their caring roles. They share their stories.

Seacombe Heights resident Nick, 22, Hanna, 17, of Hampstead Gardens, and Julia, 16, of Henley Beach, are young carers

HANNA, 17

I have been caring for my mum since I was about nine years old.

She has bipolar and also suffers from anxiety. Back then, I never really knew what being a young carer was. I just thought having a messy house and an unorganised home was normal.

Caring for Mum kind of snowballed into a big thing quickly when I was young. I needed to make sure the house was clean and that Mum was OK. Then I started helping with phone calls, bills and then going to the bank with her to get money out. And the list just got bigger and bigger. I make sure Mum takes her medication, that the house is clean and that the bills are up to date.
I guess my role is like being the mum of the house.

It is emotionally exhausting having to constantly be supportive all the time. This impacts a lot on my schooling. I have had 67 per cent attendance in the last four or five weeks, which is not great.

If something goes on in Mum's life, it carries over into my life. Sometimes my teachers understand, but if I start to miss too many classes they think I am not interested.

I joined Carer Support when I was nine and the staff and young carers are like my family. It was such an eyeopener to find people who cared about me because I did not have that kind of support when I was younger. I can talk to someone there and feel supported, which really helps me to accept who I am as a carer. I get about half an hour a week to myself. But, I really look forward to young carer events to catch up with my friends.

NICK, 22

My sister Anita and I care for our disabled mum.

She broke her back in 2007. Since then, she has had great difficulty moving, has constant pain and frequent muscle spasms.This has exacerbated various mental illnesses that she already had. We have been caring for Mum for 12 years, which is more than half of our lives. Our caring role involves emotional care to try and make Mum feel like she is valued in the family. Plus there is the physical stuff where we have to do what she cannot anymore, like lifting, cleaning, moving and driving her places. Luckily for us we are part of a team of people caring for Mum, which is pretty handy.

We find the emotional treatment the hardest.

Mum can be very demanding and unaware that we need to live our lives, too. Some of our friends know about Mum, but we try not to bring it up too much because it is usually not relatable and can bring the mood down.

Caring for Mum has had a big impact on our lives.

Due to Mum's injury she is unable to work so to gain extra money we both work part time so we can afford things. This is in addition to university commitments, which take up time. The largest effect is probably on our social lives as we cannot have anyone over because Mum is embarrassed to be disabled and does not want anyone else in the house. We have lost a lot of friendships because we are not able to invite friends over.

We get a break with Carer Support every few months, and usually they are night trips. Being able to meet up with other young carers has been a great help to us as we have been able to make friends with similar problems. We are also provided a counsellor who has helped us work through some of the more emotional parts of our caring roles, as well as help us become better carers.

JULIA, 16

I care for my younger sister, Tessa, who is 10 years old. She has a rare chromosome disorder.

It means she cannot walk or talk properly, although she has her own way of communicating, and she can't feed or hold herself up properly. We have seen improvements in her ability to feed herself and walk with her walker over the past 10 years, but we have no way of knowing how much more she will improve. Our family tries everything in the hope that she will.

I have been caring for Tessa since she was born and I have taken on greater responsibility for her as I have gotten older.

Now, I help Tessa with all sorts of things like feeding, going on walks with her and helping her walk with her frame, playing with her, getting her dressed and ready in the mornings, and pushing her on the swing. I love helping her any way I can to help her improve or just to put a smile on her face.

I think that caring for Tessa has made me more independent and mature.

I also think it has made me more understanding and less quick to judge people than most other kids my age. I have also had to develop strong time-management skills because life is so busy. Although I do not consider it a chore to care for Tessa, my busy schedule does have an impact on my studies. Year 11 has been a big jump from Year 10, and I have found it difficult to maintain the same high grades I was getting previously due to distractions at school and home, and a lack of spare time.

But I consider myself lucky to have so many supportive people in my life.