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14 May 2007 PR 07/66

New study illustrates the lives of young carers

A new study by Loughborough University has highlighted what caring for a parent with serious mental health problems is like through the eyes of children and young people themselves.

Researchers in the University’s Young Carers Research Group (YCRG) used photographic methods to reveal new insight into the lives of children and young people who live with, and help to provide care for, their mentally ill parents.

In the research study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, children and young people – young carers – were given cameras so that they could show what it is like to live with, and care for, a parent with serious mental illness.

Dr Jo Aldridge, director of the YCRG, said: “This study enabled children and young people who are carers to give us direct visual insight into their lives and uncovered aspects of young caring previous studies haven’t been able to identify.

“It was a participative study which allowed the children themselves to become co-researchers in the research process by creating visual diaries of their lives.”

Sixteen children and young people took part in the study and created their own photo diaries. Their parents had a range of mental health problems, including depression, schizophrenia and personality disorder, sometimes combined with physical health problems.

As well as revealing what sort of domestic tasks young carers undertake, such as washing up, cleaning, caring for siblings and parents and administering medication, the study also revealed the coping strategies that children use in order to cope with their caring responsibilities.

“Other studies have revealed what these children do because of what they have told us through interviews,” explains Dr Aldridge, “but this study gave us more detailed personal insight from children’s visual perspectives. So it showed us the ways in which they coped with their caring lives and how they negotiate caring with school life and friendships, for example.

“What was also important was that these children and young people enjoyed taking active part in the research process and being in charge of their own data collection. This approach is much more in line with recent government thinking and policy on children’s inclusion, participation and in consulting with them. The study shows that children are competent social agents, not just as carers but as children with stories to tell about their lives.”

Key messages to policy makers to emerge from the study are that children can and do cope with parental mental illness and caring and that they want recognition for this. But young carers also need information, particularly about mental illness, formal support services and recognition for the contributions they make as carers and, in this case, as co-researchers.

“It is true that these children’s lives are often difficult and painful and more constrained than their peers who do not have to care for an ill parent,” explains Dr Aldridge. “But the role of friends, close parent- child relationships, home based activities, faith and even family pets all need careful consideration when addressing these children’s needs and helping them to cope with parental illness. These children want the public and professionals to see what it is like to be a young carer and how they cope with their lives.”

– Ends –

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Notes to editors

  1. The full report, entitled 'Pictures of Young Caring', is available to download as a PDF document at http://www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/ss/centres/YCRG/downloadable_publications.html

  2. Photographs and Interviews – confidentiality and consent
    There are pictures to accompany this press release, which are available with full written consent and permission from the children who took part in the study and their parents. Some children are willing to be interviewed for publicity purposes through negotiation with the YCRG and Loughborough University Public Relations Office, T: 01509 222239.

  3. Young carers’ annotation to accompany the photographs
    “Some of the things I do are look after my younger sisters and I have to rub my mum’s feet, because you have to push the circulation through. They showed me how to do it….to relief my mum’s pain. I have to help my mum with her medication and injections. That’s me helping the girls get ready for school in the morning. We take it in turn washing the pots from Sunday dinner. We take it in turn during the week, me and Ben as well. We all take it in turns.”
    Kate, 14

    “When my mum is ill I have to lock all the doors and we are not allowed to answer the phone because she thinks somebody is going to hurt us and stuff. It used to make me feel unhappy but not anymore. I’m supporting mum. Sometimes I do get a bit annoyed. The next one is a prescription I go down and get for my mother. I know what the medication does but I’m not sure which one does which. It says it all on the medication. When I follow her to the doctors I wait in the waiting room. I take her but then she has to go in by herself because she goes in and talks and does not want to upset me. I check her medication when she’s got home or when she’s feeling ill and times like that I have to go and get them personally and make sure she takes them and watch her.”
    Eva, 14

  4. Young carers
    Young carers are children and young people who help to provide care for a relative (usually a parent) in the family home who is sick or disabled. It is estimated that there are approximately 175,000 young carers in the UK (estimates from the 2001 census) and around 6,000-17,000 children and young people may be looking after mentally ill parents (figures from Aldridge and Becker’s 2003 study on children caring for parents with mental illness).

  5. Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
    This study was funded by the ESRC. Award number: RES-000-22-1321

  6. The Young Carers Research Group (YCRG)
    The YCRG, which was founded in 1992, is widely recognised in the UK and internationally for the quality and value of its pioneering work on young carers. Research outputs from the YCRG have had a direct influence on the development of law, policy and good practice, including informing the development of more than 120 young carers projects across the UK.

  7. Loughborough University
    Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry and unrivalled sporting achievement.

    It is a member of the esteemed 1994 Group – a set of internationally recognised, research-intensive universities – and has a reputation for the relevance of its work. Its degree programmes are highly regarded by professional institutions and businesses, and its graduates are consistently targeted by the UK’s top recruiters.

    Loughborough is also the UK’s premier university for sport. It has perhaps the best integrated sports development environment in the world and is home to some of the country’s leading coaches, sports scientists and support staff. It also has the country’s largest concentration of world-class training facilities across a wide range of sports.

    In the 2006 National Student Survey, the University gained a top five place, with nine out of Loughborough’s 23 departments topping their subject tables. Loughborough was also placed 6th in the 2007 Times Good University Guide and was named winner of the 2006 THES award for the UK’s Best Student Experience. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded five Queen's Anniversary Prizes – an achievement bettered by no other university.

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