Young or minor caregivers

11 December 2019

Young or minor caregivers

In a context that so often evokes the ageing population, the portrait of caregivers is also being called to change.

11 December 2019

From year to year, we are noticing an increasing number of young caregivers. In 2012, 27% of Canadians 15 to 29 years old were providing care in some way to a family member or friend. What are the realities of these young people who actions are now being brought to more light?

Four out of ten young caregivers primarily support their grandparents. Next comes their parents (27%), their brothers, sisters or other family members (11%), and also friends or neighbours (14%). Illness, depression, disability or loss are all difficulties that can affect daily living activities. These young people get involved with their family by choice or in the absence of another adult.

The young caregiver concept is relatively new, but research is being conducted to understand their reality, define their needs and identify the implications of such a commitment.

The role of a young caregiver

The health problems that these young people deal with are mostly related to ageing and the loss of autonomy that often comes with it. That said, the consequences of heart disease, cancer, injuries and mental health are increasingly common. One need only think of a single-parent family in which the parent has cancer. Due to the presence and closeness, it is quite often the child who will look after their parent.

Thus, young caregivers support their loved ones in the same kinds of tasks as caregivers in general: meal preparation, housekeeping, transportation to appointments, shopping. In some cases, personal care also enters the picture.

Whatever the type of assistance, most young caregivers feel valued by their role and even draw a certain pride from it. With these types of responsibilities, they also become more mature and notice that their bond with the care receiver is strengthened.

What are the repercussions of this role?

Despite these benefits, their caregiver role also comes with its share of difficulties, which are often difficult to juggle with their other obligations. Just like people from the sandwich generation (people 45 to 64 years old who look after their children and their parents with loss of autonomy), young caregivers are split between their academic and professional responsibilities and the care to be provided to their loved ones. One youth in five admits their role impacts their academics. Absences, late work and less time dedicated to studies are among the most common consequences. Their academic path gets disrupted and many are forced to stop going to school. Due to an inability to tackle all their challenges, school dropout is becoming increasingly common and was the focus of the first “Spotlight on young caregivers” forum held last spring in Montréal.

These same difficulties are also seen in the workplace. The young people realize that their performance is not optimal. The emotional, mental and physical repercussions of their role lead to fatigue and feelings of fear and anxiety.

Regardless of age, the definition their limits and the degree of caregiver involvement are delicate matters to think about.

Toward recognition of young caregivers

While the phenomenon is gaining recognition now, it is nothing new in Quebec or elsewhere in the world. In fact, other countries recognize young caregivers, especially in the United States which has between 1.3 and 1.4 million, the United Kingdom 175,000, Australia 170,000 and New Zealand 10,500.

This concern will also be echoed in the development of the very first policy for caregivers. In fact, Minister Marguerite Blais has already asserted that the reality of young caregivers will be considered in her action plan.



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