Maz Evans: Why We Must Care for our Young Carers

Maz Evans

Spoiler alert: I love stories. Writing them, yes (mostly), but also listening to other people’s. Whether I’m invited to or not, I love nothing more than hearing the stories that buzz around us all the time. I think of it as “life research”.  I believe the accepted term is “nosiness”.

Many Young Carers don’t identify as such, so don’t reach out for the help they need

The subject matter of my Who Let the Gods Out series has meant that, this year, I have been able to hear the stories of a particularly extraordinary community of young people – the Young Carers who are working tirelessly around the UK to support members of their family who need their help. 

The Hidden Army

I confess that, like many people, I was unaware of this hidden army until researching my hero, Elliot Hooper, who cares for his mother, who has early onset dementia. Estimates of the number of UK Young Carers go as high as 700,000 children – the truth is, no-one really knows exactly how many there are. Many Young Carers don’t identify as such, so don’t reach out for the help they need. Many, like my Elliot, are too scared to come forward lest they are separated from their loved ones. But a terrifying number are simply slipping through the cracks – there simply aren’t the resources to identify and support them all.

Too Much, Too Young

Through my work as ambassador for Spurgeons, a leading charity supporting Young Carers, I’ve been privileged to meet many Young Carers. Their stories are as various as they are – some are caring for parents, others for siblings. Some were born to their caring roles, others brought to them by illness or injury within their immediate family. The average age for a Young Carer in the UK is just 12 years old – with some as young as five supporting a family member with housework, medication and even personal care. And these kids are incredible. So caring, so courageous, so generous of spirit. It has been humbling to meet them – their stories are tattooed on my heart.

But these children – for that is what they still are – are really struggling too. I’ve heard utterly heartbreaking stories from Young Carers and their case workers of bullying, depression and, terrifyingly, far too many suicide attempts. To hear a child of 11 tell you they’ve tried to take their own life when it becomes too much… it’s just so very, very wrong.

When I’ve asked Young Carers what they want – their answer is unanimous: understanding

Stepping Forward

Talking to the kids, two things have become abundantly clear to ensure they are getting the vital support they need. When I’ve asked Young Carers what they want, their answer is unanimous: understanding. The first step is raising awareness that these children are here and that this is the reality of their world – I’m indebted to Scottish Book Trust for hosting this blog piece in that vein.

Secondly, it has become very clear that schools are absolutely vital to the wellbeing of these heroic young people. The Young Carers I’ve met have often reported a lack of understanding from both peers and teachers. One child was sent home for not having his tie – his parents had been in hospital with his younger sibling all night and hadn’t done the laundry. Another got a detention for not handing in her homework – homework is a huge issue for Young Carers, whose responsibilities start when most children’s end. She then got a second detention for missing the first when she was called home to care for her mother, who had fallen out of her wheelchair.

Schools – indeed, all of us – have to be understanding (or educated to become so) about the challenges facing this growing number of vulnerable young people. Because if we don’t, one of these stories could have the worst possible ending. An ending that, together, we can change – simply by listening.

 

After you've read Simply the Quest, here are some other books to check out for different ages that explore the experience of young carers:

8-11

 

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The Granny Project by Anne Fine

Four children are so appalled by the idea of their granny being put in a home they decide to care for her themselves

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Moon Pie by Simon Mason

It's down to Martha to care for her younger brother when their dad can't manage. But, eventually, Dad's problems become too big for her to solve.

Lily Alone cover

Lily Alone by Jacqueline Wilson

When Lily's mum goes off on holiday and her stepdad fails to show up, Lily finds herself responsible for her three younger siblings

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The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson

Dolphin adores her mother, Marigold, even though Marigold's moods can be strange and erratic

Mr Tom cover

Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian

A neglected boy evacuated from London during the War begins to flourish under the care of gruff Mr Tom, but his happiness is threatened when his mother summons him home

Teen/YA

 

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The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

The trilogy's heroine, Lyra, is joined by 12-year-old Will, who is responsible for his ailing mother

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Riverkeep by Martin Stewart

When his father is possessed by an evil spirit, Wulliam must embrace the family's dark history in order to find a cure

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The Boy in the Tower by Polly Ho-Yen

Ade loves looking out of the windows of the enormous tower block where he lives with his mum. His mum, on the other hand, not only hates looking out the windows, she hates going out. And that's why she hasn't left their flat for years.

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Tightrope by Gillian Cross

Ashley uses graffiti to distract herself from the strain of taking care of her mother

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Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine

Rowan has more responsibilities than most girls her age. These days, she pretty much looks after her little sister single-handedly – which doesn't leave much time for friends or fun. But then a mysterious boy presses a negative into her hand, and despite herself, Rowan finds herself intrigued...

 

Simply the Quest by Maz Evans is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House).

If you want to explore the idea of young carers with your pupils, our resources for the short story 'Angel Wings' by Anne Donovan might be a good start. The story looks at the challenges faced by a young boy whose mother struggles with mental health difficulties.

Why not check out our resource to explore the first book in the series, Who Let the Gods Out? You can also find a wealth of other activity packs and case studies in our resources section. 

Maz Evans

Simply the Quest cover
Maz Evans is the author of Who Let the Gods Out? and Simply the Quest, the hilarious first two books in a four part series published by Chicken House. She regularly visits schools, bringing her Story Stew creative writing programme to children across the country. You can find out more about Maz at her website, and keep up with her on Twitter.