Ontario Health Promotion E-Bulletin: Who is a Young Carer?

Have you heard of the term “young carer”? Chances are, you probably haven’t. Most people are not familiar with the term in Canada. But it isn’t just Canada; young carers are an invisible population worldwide and due to the lack of public awareness, their needs tend to go unrecognized.

So, let us start with the basics: What is a young carer?

A young carer is anyone 24 and under who provides unpaid care to a family member (Bendar, et al., 2013). These family member(s) may be suffering from illness, mental health issues, old age, disability, or substance abuse (Smyth, Blaxland, and Cass, 2011). Young carers tend to have more responsibilities than their non-caregiving peers.

But what exactly are their responsibilities?

The range of duties of a young carer fit into seven categories and they may engage in work from one or more of these categories. These include domestic tasks, household management, personal care, emotional care, sibling care, financial care, and practical care (Charles, Marshall, and Stainton, 2012).

Domestic tasks consist of responsibilities such as washing dishes or cleaning the house. Household management involves duties such as shopping or repairing the house. Personal care includes tasks such as helping a family member dress, bathe, and use the bathroom. Emotional support includes improving a family member’s mental health. Sibling care includes caring for brothers and sisters who may or may not have exceptional needs. Financial care can range from handling payments for a family member or partner to working to pay the bills themselves. Practical support involves helping the family with language barriers or speech/hearing impairment.

But, how do young carers end up in these kinds of roles in the first place?

Charles, Marshall, and Stainton (2010b) interviewed Canadian adults to determine why they took up a caregiving role in their youth. One reason was a strong sense of duty towards their family. Yet, the main reason stated was that no one else was able to provide care when exceptional circumstances occurred in their family (Charles et al., 2010b).

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