A research project by the University of NSW Social Policy Research Centre has investigated the social inclusion, work opportunities, educational, health, transport and support needs of young carers, and the best ways to support them so that they can participate fully in society.
The study, by Cathy Thomson and Trish Hill, defined social inclusion as referring to people having the resources (income, health, education, information and social networks) skills and opportunities they need to participate in different aspects of life, in the way that they want to, similar to others in the community.
Their study focused on young adult carers aged between 18 and 25 years. Here is a summary of their findings:
The report found that YACs’ entry into caring roles varied. Some had grown up in a caring role whereas others had become a carer after a life event that significantly changed their family situation.
The support provided by YACs varied considerably. They provided physical, emotional and practical support, as well as monitoring.
Choice and obligation in becoming a carer
For many YACs caring was an integral part of their daily routine within family life; they thought all young people provided care. Some were primary carers for a grandparent, parent or child, while others helped their parents care for a sibling.
Other carers had entered their caring role abruptly, but still considered this to be a normal part of family life. Some YACs commented they had little choice about taking on caring roles given complex family dynamics and other family members opting out of providing support.
Challenges of multiple activities
Generally, the YACs’ ability to participate in other activities, such as paid work, social activities, education and employment, was restricted by their caring responsibilities.
The young people talked about having to choose between different activities, whereas continuing to provide care was taken as a given.
“I doubt whether you’ll find many carers that can do more than one thing. So, you choose between your education, working or a social life.”
The degree to which caring responsibilities impacted on YACs doing other activities varied and depended on the characteristics of the individual, the intensity of the support given and help from other family members and services.
Many you adult carers found it hard to get a job after they left school. They talked about limited job opportunities given their lack of experience and problems associated with finding work that fitted in with their caring responsibilities.
Finding paid work required persistence and luck. Some opted to take whatever job was offered just to get some experience. Competition was fierce for the limited jobs. Most worked part-time and one YAC had two part-time jobs to cover expenses.
“So, I’m working full-time hours this year, two jobs, to sustain myself, and I’m studying part-time as well. I’ve found it’s pretty difficult emotionally and physically. Like today I was up at 4.30, started at 6.00 at my job at the shop to 2.30, and then 3.00 to 6.00. I usually go home after that and I’ll help cook, and I’ll help bath the little ones.”
“Yeah, like at my job, my boss is great. I don’t work past 2.30 and that allows me to work my other job, and I’m home just before dinner so I can help out with dinner, so I’m not working long nights which is good. I work long hours but it’s just during the day which is really good, and its kind of fixed hours so I know that whether I’m working a six or an eight-hour day, it’s not going to go past 2.30pm.”
“Leaving school, trying to find a job isn’t easy…that’s how I got my job…I knew the manager… you know you get some kids who haven’t worked at all through their high school lives, you know, sorry, nothing for you because you don’t have any experience.”
The struggle to achieve work-life balance
YACs mentioned a lack of understanding and flexibility from teachers and/or employers as well as difficulties associated with balancing school/university and/or paid work and caring responsibilities.
“I find that it’s just physically draining. Even if somebody was like, okay, here’s someone to look after your mum – go to work. I would be like, I can’t do it. I am that physically drained that I am not going to be able to stand up there.”
Impact of caring over time
Although providing care can have a negative impact on YACs participating in different types of activities, it can also have some positive effects. Some YACs felt that their caring role provided them with useful life skills, maturity and a different perspective on life. Others saw providing support to family members and also engaging in other activities was part of normal life.
“Yeah it’s just been part of life, I don’t feel like I have to juggle things, it’s just how I’ve grown up with it, you know, it doesn’t feel like it’s out of the normal routine or anything. It’s just been what I’ve done.”
However, for other young people the impact of providing support had a long-term impact on other aspects of their lives and as one YAC said ‘it puts you behind in life’.
This can be especially hard when significant events occur simultaneously such as finishing studying and trying to find a job. Coping with these events can be difficult at this vulnerable time in the young people’s lives as they transition to independent living or from studying to paid work, given their additional caring responsibilities. This can have a cumulative impact on their future.