Lottery-Backed Project To Support Thousands Of Young Carers

Before leaving school today more than 8,500 children and young people throughout Northern Ireland will be carrying out tasks about which neither their school friends nor their teachers may possibly be aware. They do it every day, before school, after school and on weekends.

They are a considerable part of the invisible foundation of our society. They are Young Carers. Crossroads Caring for Carers (NI) and the British Medical Association Northern Ireland have launched the Young Carers Project – an initiative developed to meet the express needs of young carers here, thanks to support from the Big Lottery Fund.

Performing the launch Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, MP, MLA said: “Our young people are our most precious asset. Too often they receive a bad press but what today’s launch underlines is the huge contribution they make to our society. Often unsung heroes and heroines, they are hugely deserving of our support and acknowledgement and the initiative being launched today will help provide some of that support to them and their families.”

Through a grant of £495,167 from the Big Lottery Fund’s Change UR Future programme and working in partnership with BMA(NI), Crossroads has developed a project designed to support the thousands of young carers in Northern Ireland who, on a daily basis, help look after members of their families who may be ill, disabled, have mental health problems or maybe an addition to alcohol or drugs.

This new project, run by Crossroads, offers an holistic approach to supporting young carers and their families. It also gives young carers the opportunity to take part in activities organised by Crossroads, and provides respite care which allows them to meet up with other children and young people who are experiencing the same problems and emotions.

Speaking at today’s launch, Christine Best, Crossroads (NI) Chief Executive, said: “In Northern Ireland we have more children, per head of population, providing care to their families than in the rest of the UK. We are talking about children or young people, the average age of whom is 12, many of whom are providing in excess of 50 hours care each week.

Often they are coping with responsibilities most of us may only undertake when we are adults and they are doing so alone and, in many cases, in fear of being separated from their families. These children can be lonely, isolated, lose friendships, miss out on education and social activities.

“By putting in place this young carers project, we aim to highlight the invaluable contribution that our young carers make to society and to promote understanding, by teachers, parents, health professionals and indeed other young people, of their very special role. We are pleased that the Big Lottery Fund recognised the merits of this project and agreed to provide substantial funding.

“We are also grateful to the British Medical Association for the support it has given, and will continue to give, to this extremely worthwhile initiative.  We will now be able to do so much more for our young carers in bringing them the vital support they need and deserve.”

BMA (NI) Chairman, Dr Brian Patterson, also speaking at the launch, said: “BMA (NI) is delighted to be working with Crossroads on this project. Young carers are the hidden heroes in our world and they need all the support society can give them.

“GPs especially are aware of just how much they contribute to their families. We see everyday the tasks they carry out. Not just domestic chores but often helping with intimate tasks such as washing, showering or toileting. They surrender much of their childhood to their family responsibilities.”

Paul Cavanagh, Chair of the Big Lottery Fund’s Young People’s Fund Committee, said: “The Big Lottery Fund worked closely with young people to deliver the Change UR Future programme. A number of young people sit on our decision-making committee and the successful projects like the Crossroads Caring for Carers (NI) Young Carers Project have clearly demonstrated that young people are at the heart of designing, developing and implementing the programmes.

“I am delighted to be associated with the launch of this important project which is helping young people be healthy and contribute to their community by funding activities that will make a real difference to their lives.”