They are the often unseen small army of young carers - going quietly about the business of helping loved ones - who are being forced to say goodbye to their childhood far too soon.
Being a young carer – a term given to any child who provides unpaid care to a relative or friend who has a disability, long term illness, mental health issue or substance and/or alcohol use issues – can have an undoubted negative effect on young people and can lead to all sorts of difficulties in their own lives.
Caption: Geraint Turner and Egija Cinovska, YMCA Swansea Young Carers Service co-ordinators.
But such young people in Swansea are being given vital help and support from YMCA Swansea’s Young Carers Service. The small but extremely dedicated team of staff and volunteers offers professional and peer to peer support, information and access to vital services as well as a safe and friendly place that allows them ‘just to be themselves’.
Geraint Turner Young Carers’ senior project co-ordinator said: “We have carried out our own research, so we know that there are at least three young carers in every class in schools in Swansea. There are hundreds of young carers across Swansea, so it’s all about raising awareness and providing the support that they need and tailoring it to their needs – no two young carers are the same. They are all individuals and so are their action plans.
“All their stories are different due to the complex issues of those who they care for; they could have mental health issues, disabilities, substance use issues, so it’s quite difficult to have one picture for the whole scenario.”
Mr Turner said their roles of caring for others can adversely affect them.
It makes them grow up a lot quicker because they are responsible for looking after finances, doing the shopping, taking their siblings to school – they are being parents.
“Being young is a challenge for young carers. They grow up a lot quicker than their peers without carer roles. We have young carers who are only eight years old but they are being 14 or 15-year-olds, they are all doing different things but the impact is the same, they are growing up really fast.”
Egija Cinovska, Young Carers Project co-ordinator, picked up the theme. She said: “Young carers face many challenges on a daily basis, even getting to school can be a challenge for a young carer. Sometimes they have to take their younger siblings to school first, making them late themselves, sometimes they can’t do their homework on time and so get into trouble in school.
“Maintaining friendships can be an issue with young carers because sometimes they have to cancel plans with friends because they have to look after a family member. Just having the opportunity to go out and do something for themselves and have a bit of me time is a challenge for young carers.
“We offer one-to-one support and advocacy support in which we attend any meetings to lend them a voice.”
The Swansea Young Carers youth club, held in the YMCA's theatre, is a particular popular lifeline for the young people.
Miss Cinovska said: “We have between 20 and 30 young carers accessing our youth club, 6.30pm to 8.30pm every Wednesday. We provide transport, as we know that is an issue, and a lot of them come on the bus.
“And during the school holidays we run trips and activities. We just want to give them a break from their caring role.”
The service is working with the Cwmtawe Cluster – a group of three GP practices, health care professionals, volunteers and other related bodies in the lower Swansea Valley – to spread the word and identify any youngsters who would benefit.
Mr Turner said: “The primary focus is to increase the knowledge of the GPs about young carers.
"Before our project we never had referrals from GPs. We understand how busy they are and how stressful things can be but there was a definite need to increase their knowledge. We have produced information booklets and leaflets so they can hand out to patients.”
He said more needed to done to help sustain YMCA Swansea’s Young Carers Service. “Now that it has been highlighted by the Welsh Government and the schools there is definitely more awareness of young carers out there but there’s still not enough support and there are not enough resources being put into young carers. We are a very small team.
“We have Local authority funding at the moment and Waterloo Foundation funding but we have to reapply every year. It isn’t great for sustainability, but we do our best to keep the service going.”
Dr Iestyn Davies, Cwmtawe Cluster lead, said: “Almost every youngster will face challenges growing up and finding their feet in the modern world but that journey is much tougher if they have to balance their lives with caring for someone else. The YMCA Swansea’s Young Carers Service work so hard to offer support and show them that they need not be alone and we are delighted to help raise awareness of all that they do.”
Carers Week, June 10-17, is an annual campaign to raise awareness of caring, highlight the challenges carers face and recognise the contribution they make to families and communities throughout the UK.
Shriyana’s Logeswaran Story
I am 15 years old and live with my mum and my nine-year-old sister in Swansea. My mother has fibromyalgia, which means that she has pain in all her joints and it makes her brain process things a lot more slowly. As a result, around the house I help with the cleaning and cooking, as well as looking after my sister and taking care of myself.
I have to balance it all with revision for my exams and getting my homework done. I have GCSEs coming up and my goal is to get at least 10 A*s and then go to 6th form and university. I want to study medicine to become a doctor.
Mum is really understanding, I have to help her but she also understands that I have to get my revision done. I definitely have more responsibilities than my friends, they depend upon their parents to do stuff for them, whereas I have to do things for myself. They don’t have to.
Sometimes you do feel upset that you do not have the same advantages but after coming to Young Carers, it’s nice to feel that I’m not the only one in this position.
I first came along to Young Carers after our family social worker told me about it. They came over and spoke to me about what they do and then I joined.
Young Carers has helped me to socialise with other young people and I have definitely become more confident. I have experienced so many thing that I don’t think I would have if I hadn’t come here. They also provide so many opportunities for us to have our own say and to share our experiences with others, while raising awareness of young carers.
If there are any young carers out there I would encourage them to just come along and have a go. I wasn’t really sure about the group when I first came, because I wasn’t really confident talking to others, but then once you do start to come, you see so many people in a similar situation, it makes feel better. You also learn different ways to improve your situation.
I just want to thank Egija, Geraint and all the other staff who work with us because they put in some much hard work to make sure that we are happy.