NUMBER 459 • 8 MARCH • CHILD CARERS
In relation to developmental issues at least, it can be perceived that these areas are based upon a culturally specific view of childhood which is prevalent in western cultures, where there is a belief that certain work tasks and responsibilities are age-appropriate and not suitable for children. ‘REMEMBER children must be allowed to be children’ (Department of Health 1996b, p.12). However, even with this general acceptance about the role of children in society, it has proved difficult to come to a consensus on the extent and type of care that is deemed suitable for young carers. Some situations would be clearly seen as inappropriate — a child under ten toileting an opposite-sex parent, a child of six being asked to keep an eye on a sibling in an acute schizophrenic episode. But what of a ten-year-old toileting a same-sex parent recovering from an operation or a twelve-year-old spending time with their depressed relative? Here the ethical issues are less obvious and the decision could go either way It is interesting that the idea that children and young people should not undertake caring tasks is rarely proposed. The consensus appears to be that caring should be appropriate to their age and abilities and should not have a detrimental effect on their lives.
Obviously the younger the child, the more demanding the task or extensive the responsibility and the more this interferes with educational and social opportunities, the clearer the issues are, but it has proved difficult to reach any general principles on what is and what is not appropriate care. Rather, practitioners need to view every situation as unique, taking such factors as the wishes of the child, maturity, culture, family relationships and effects on the child’s development into account. It is important to remember that caring is not necessarily a negative experience for children. Some young people feel proud of the responsibilities they undertake, view themselves as more independent and mature than other people of their age and enjoy being needed and useful to someone they love. Many more accept the role with the same resignation that they may have for any unwelcome responsibility, such as having to do the washing-up or tidy their room.
Heron, C. (1998). Working with carers.
London: Jessica Kingsley. 177
Department of Health (1996b) Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1996 Practice guidance. London: HMSO