Teenagers left to care for
sick and disabled family members with little
or no support
TEENAGERS caring for sick, delusional and suicidal family members are slipping through the cracks of a faulty government support system, forced to fend for themselves and risking their own future.
Experts are calling for an overhaul of support services, with many of the state's 60,000 "forgotten angels" exposed to mental and physical trauma.
"I have come across five year olds who have been the primary carer in the home," said Tim Moore, president of Carers Australia and a research fellow at the Australian Catholic University.
"Many children have to deal with parents or family members who are deeply depressed, maybe suicidal, high on drugs or are delusional.
"Workers throughout the country are doing a great job but - unfortunately - there are too many hurdles in the system."
The most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics data show that only 4 per cent of young carers aged 15-25 were in education. And 60 per cent were jobless.
Brisbane psychologist and school counsellor Judith Locke told The Sunday Mail that children in these situations needed expert support.
"My training in clinical psychology took me six years to be knowledgeable enough to cope with the responsibilities of assisting people with complex mental health needs. To put this responsibility on children would be an impossible task and should not be asked of a child under 16 or maybe even 18," she said.
Child psychologist Dr John Irvine said how a child coped with caring responsibilities varied greatly. "For some it stunts their own growth because they can't do things that other kids of their age do. They can become somewhat resentful and passively aggressive. But others flourish."
In his research into young carers, Dr Moore has found that only 10 per cent of surveyed young carers could identify a service or support that they could access more than once a month.
In other research, he found 80 per cent of support workers, including youth and mental health officers, said their key service response to a child caring for an adult with drug or alcohol issues would be to send them elsewhere.
The hand-balling of responsibilities was a problem, Dr Moore said. "There needs to be an alignment of services all working for the needs of the family, not just the person needing care," he said.
Dr Moore said many young carers would have to drop out of school to access Centrelink allowances.
Research from Carers Australia shows that young carers report caring from pre-school age but most are 10 to 13.
According to Carers Queensland acting chief executive John Kennedy: "I think every carer is an angel ... young or old." Carers Queensland Services offer support for people aged 5-25 and acknowledges young carers' tasks include "interpreting and understanding pyschological difficulties as well as bathing, feeding and toileting family members".
Young carers often report situations when they feel unsafe, particularly when their relative is prone to seizures or challenging behaviours. Many young carers end up with mental issues of their own and social isolation and poverty adds to that.
Carers Queensland chief executive Debra Cottrell said there was a reluctance to admit how many young carers there were. She said that while there had been a slow increase in awareness, some still believed that supporting them legitimised a system that was failing children. "If the disability system was supported better, then it would be more likely that the physical and practical tasks young carers do could be purchased externally," she said.
But she said many young carers took on caring roles out of love for the dependent person and that supporting them with appropriate funding and services to help them stay in school was vital.
Many Australian parents think their young carers do a better job than a professional care provider.
There also is a strong bond, adding weight to the argument that keeping the family unit working together is vital.
There are a range of services to support young carers. These include guidance officers, school-based nurses, school counsellors, youth support co-ordinators as well as learning support staff.
Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers Senator Jan McLucas said that young carers struggled to get the support they needed through the State Government's disability service system.
Senator McLucas's office said that, fundamentally, the issue came down to getting better in-home support services, including respite to support young carers.
A spokesman for the Queensland Minister for Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services Tracy Davis said while young carers were an issue of "considerable concern", funding for carers was a Commonwealth issue. Queensland is acknowledging the efforts of its young carers with an invitation-only festival day at Movie World on Sunday, June 24.
For the love of my mother
IF AIDEN Crozman could have just one wish, he would wish for his mum to be well.
The 13-year-old forgotten angel from Loganholme started doing small jobs for his mum when he was six. His responsibilities have grown over the years and he is now her primary carer.
Mum Kathy, who suffers from chronic fatigue, is heavily reliant on her son to cook and clean the house or at times help her to the bathroom.
At the age of 10, Aiden helped saved her life. When Kathy's heart stopped he called the paramedics, who managed to resuscitate her.
Busting every myth about selfish teens, Aiden is happy to be on hand for his mum. and help out in the home.
Aiden says he is now "about 75 per cent" responsible for Kathy's care, with occasional help from his 28-year-old sister and a government-funded community carer who comes once a week to bathe Kathy and clean the house.
Aiden receives about $50 a week in benefits and Kathy is on a disability pension. Their combined income just covers household expenses and medication.
First thing every morning, Aiden calls out to see if his mum is OK and on weekends he stays close to home. "Usually I'm in the house, if I'm not I'm in the street, and I check on Mum every 10 minutes," he said.
Kathy says on bad days Aiden helps her to the toilet when he gets home.
Aiden does not complain, but there is no doubt that like other "carer" families, he and Kathy would welcome extra help and support.
Amy Kelly, Jackie Sinnerton
27 May 2012