Today is Young Carers Awareness Day. We take a look at what being a young carer means to Blackpool youngsters Joe Fryer, 13, and Jasmine Moores, eight
I’d like my childhood back.
Joe Fryer, 13, cares for his mum Amanda and his words highlight the pressure he – and thousands of other youngsters like him – face daily.
Today is Young Carers Awareness Day and Joe, who has been a carer since he was 11, has told his story to help others understand what life is like for children in his situation.
He is one of 5,000 carers on the books of Blackpool Carers Centre. Up to 1,000 are young and young adult carers.
There are 700,000 in Britain, the national Carers Trust estimates.
The average age is 13 and one in 12 are of secondary school age.
Joe attends Montgomery School and is happy there but admits he was often late at his former school.
“Some people just don’t get that being a young carer is a job,” he said.
“It’s hard work. You don’t get paid for it. You don’t talk about it.
“I thought I was the only one, the only kid with a mum who was ill. Then I came to Blackpool Carers Centre.
“I socialise with other carers but I also need to know how to be around other people.
“I don’t want to go through life asking, ‘are you all right?’
“I feel I’m 13 going on 20.
“Being a young carer isn’t a choice. You love someone and want to help. My mum was very ill for a very long time. She was in so much pain and got really depressed.
“I’d help with her pills and other things but it was hard. I couldn’t sleep, I’d have nightmares. I was anxious. I was worried my mum was going to die.
“I called ambulances out 11 times for her over the past year or two.
“The first time I panicked and was crying and scared but I then learned to stay calm, give them all the information they needed.
“I was still scared inside.”
Mum Amanda, a specialist nurse who has raised money for Blackpool Carers Centre, contacted the charity for help.
“Joe was struggling,” she said. “We were so caught up in the situation he needed help from outside. I knew the good the charity did.”
Joe added: “I’ve got the most amazing support worker now.”
Amanda is now on the mend although will live with the legacy of advanced endometriosis, adenomyosis and a tumour.
She said: “I coped but had no quality of life. I was in and out of hospital. The adenomyosis was undiagnosed for years because it’s hard to get to the root of such problems,
“I had a background in nursing so did my research.”
It led to excision surgery at the hands of a brilliant specialist surgeon.
When the non-malignant tumour was found, Amanda had a hysterectomy.
She said: “I’ve since been diagnosed with costochondritis too - but I’m back at work in the NHS, this time in reception.
“I feel I’ve lost years of my life, too.”
Amanda remarries later this year and has a dream holiday planned. She’s asking for donations to the carers’ centre in lieu of wedding gifts.
“I’ve had the best gift of all – love and life,” she added.
“It’s time to start making some good memories for us all.”
Now Joe can start looking to the future more, but it will take some adjustment as the dynamics of his relationship with his mum shifts.
Joe says: “The ‘carer’ me worries about letting my guard down in case mum gets ill again.
“The ‘teenager’ me wants to decide what I’m going to study for GCSEs to get to where I want to be.
“I want to be a forensic scientist or a police officer.
“I was my mum’s carer and counsellor.
“I want mum to be well. She looks amazing now.
“We argue a lot but we love each other.”
‘Being a young carer is hard work’
Jasmine Moores, eight, is a pupil at Unity Academy. This is what she had to say about being a young carer:
“I help look after my little brother Oliver, two.
“He has cerebral palsy.
“I didn’t want a little brother so I cried when I found out he wasn’t a girl. Then I saw him and loved him.
“It is hard and upsetting having a brother who is disabled.
“Sometimes he falls over so I hold his hand to help him.
“If he wants one of my teddies I give it to him. He always wants to play with me. If he drops his dodo on the floor I get it.
“I make his breakfast at the weekend, his favourites Frosty Flakes, Sugar Puffs. I like pancakes but I’ve not had proper pancakes for a really long time. It gives mum a break because she’s quite sleepy at weekends.
“I feed him if he won’t eat. I make yum-yum noises. He’s pretty cute for a baby. When he sees me he says, ‘Jas Jas Jas.’
“I help him get dressed. Mum usually changes his nappy because he poos quite a lot. I help mum wash up, tidy up and get things she needs for Oliver.
“Dad helps too. It would be quite stressful for them to cope without me.
“My mum is called Kimberley. Mummy and Oliver are always busy with physio and seeing doctors. Sometimes I go but it’s boring.
“Being a young carer is hard work but young carers club is great. I get a break and time to relax. I love going out on trips. The workers look after me and I met my best friend forever Lily here. She’s a carer too.
“It’s very tiring and sometimes I get fed up and mummy gets fed up and cries and I hug her and make her feel better.”
Helping the whole family
When things got too much for one nine-year-old local carer – who helps to look after his ‘very boisterous’ four-year-old autistic brother – the whole family got taken under the wing of Blackpool Carers Centre.
Hannah Fletcher, family support team leader at the charity, said: “Mum felt her older son put up with a lot. He was becoming angry, frustrated and emotional, shouting throwing things, crying and punching walls.
“Once the centre became involved it became apparent the family as a whole were struggling.”
One to one sessions at the charity helped the young carer to cope and calm down and, crucially, realise that his little brother didn’t do what he did to make him cross but it was part of his condition – he couldn’t help it.
The family went on a 12-week plan and met on neutral ground at the charity’s Beaverbrooks House headquarters to focus on the positives in their life.
The young carer is now part of his own school’s ‘buddying’ system, looking after younger children in the playground and listening to them if they are feeling sad or upset. He also enjoys more time for himself, thanks to the charity’s clubs and events.
“Mum said their own home became a much calmer place,” Hannah added.
“He’s dealing with his own emotions, feelings and behaviour much better.”
Nationally, the Carers Trust has identified a sharp rise in the number of very young carers. There are now nearly 10,000 young carers under the age of eight and the most recent Census in 2011 found an 83 per cent increase in the number of young carers aged five to seven since 2001.
Blackpool Carers Centre believes many still remain ‘hidden’ in plain sight. Of the 5,000 carers registered at the local centre, up to 1,000 are young and young adult carers.
Marking occasion at schools in the resort
Several local schools are supporting the Blackpool Carers Centre Schools Super Snap competition today.
Pupils will be allowed to dress to impress, dress as superheroes or make and wear hats in tribute to young carers.
The aim is to raise awareness and funds for the mayor’s charity campaign.
Schools are encouraged to share social media updates on the day, tagging @BlackpoolCarers and using hashtag #YCAD.
The most creative photograph will win a trophy for the school to be presented by the Mayor on Friday February 2.
Young carers’ champion Rachel Lambert is inviting interested locals to meet the team and learn about the services provided by the charity at its Beaverbrooks House headquarters between noon and 3.30pm today to mark the awareness day.
There’s also a question and answer session for young carers and professionals from 4pm to 6pm.
Rachel said: “It’s an opportunity to invest in the wellbeing of young carers.”