Carers Week: Andy’s Story
From the age of six Andy cared for both his parents. His father suffered from heart problems and type-two diabetes and his mother had mental health problems as well as various physical illnesses and disabilities, which resulted in her having over 30 operations.
As an only child, Andy found balancing his school life with caring both physically and emotionally for his parents extremely challenging. He would often cook his own dinners and do the washing up when other children would be free to enjoy their childhood.
The largest impact was on Andy’s education. He didn’t enjoy going to school and was often bullied about his situation – a common problem for young carers. When people teased him he would overreact due to the extra stress and tiredness he was experiencing.
As a result of the bullying and a lack of understanding from teachers about his role as a young carer, Andy’s attendance at school suffered. Despite constantly trying to explain his extra responsibilities as a carer and the school insisting they understood, his parents received a letter stating that unless his attendance improved they would be taking the matter further, possibly even to court.
Then Andy found help through a Children’s Society project called Young Carer’s United and things started to change. The support he received from the Society made a massive difference to his life and schoolwork. A Project Worker went into to the school to speak on his behalf and explain the extra responsibilities and pressures Andy faced on a daily basis. They acted as a port of call for any problems at home, and carried out an assessment to see what help Andy needed. They also provided fun day trips out and took him to the Young Carer’s Festival, providing that essential break from his caring role.
His school attendance dramatically improved and Andy’s teachers became much more understanding. He even carried out a presentation to their pastoral board about what it is to be a young carer and the school incorporated a section on young carers’ issues into their teachers’ training.
Andy’s family then moved house, and with the support of the Children’s Society he settled in well at a new sixth form college, completing his A-levels and achieving three A grades in Law, English Literature and Politics, and grade B in Performance Studies.
Against all the odds, he gained a place at Cambridge University studying Law and graduated last year with a 2.1. As part of this degree, he wrote his dissertation on the subject of how the law supports young carers and their families.
He has since been elected onto the Cambridge University Students’ Union as their “Access Officer”, a role which involves him organising events, going around the country to try and encourage students from non-traditional backgrounds to consider going to university and to talk about his experiences. He has organised visits for young carers’ groups so that he can tell them about his journey and help to raise their aspirations.
More recently Andy helped the Children’s Society to develop a project called Young Carers in Focus, which last month received £1.5m through Big Lottery Fund’s Youth in Focus funding programme. Working across England, the four-year project will work to give young carers a voice, and provide them with better access to practical advice and support. It will include recruiting 230 young carer champions from across England who will act as ambassadors and help to raise awareness of the issues facing young carers.
For more information about the Children’s Society please visit www.childrenssociety.org.uk