Carers Week: Jenny’s Story
Jenny* from Southampton, now in her early 20s, grew up helping her mum to cope with her younger brother, who suffered from learning difficulties and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and also her drug and alcohol-dependent father.
“The situation had a huge effect on my mum who was depressed, had very low self-esteem and felt out of control all of the time,” Jenny says. “She was not only trying to get my brother into school, look after him, she also had the issue of my dad who would get violent when he was drunk or high.
“Growing up, I just thought that was normal. It was just my brother and my dad. I knew that family life was hard and different to my friends, but I didn’t see myself as a young carer.
“We really struggled financially – mum was rubbish with money and my dad was taking our money all the time to fund his habits. Mum could only work part-time jobs because when working full-time she was always getting called out of work. I used to help her fill in benefit forms, work out how much money we had and how much the bills were. I learned to cook from a really young age and even cooked Christmas dinner when I was seven.
“I always put my needs aside because I wanted to help my mum so much. We were very close and she would tell me everything. She was really isolated, so I was her only outlet. I helped with the housework – I would even go to work with her to help her. It didn’t matter what it was, I would do everything I possibly could – shopping, working out what meals we would have. She didn’t have the space in her brain to comprehend all that day-to-day stuff because she had so much else going on.
“I was basically the head of my family, always the strong person. I didn’t realise what the impact was. It all came to a head when I was 18 and I had a massive breakdown. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, and I was in a really bad way. I couldn’t continue my university course.”
Jenny now helps run a young carers project at Hampshire charity One Community Eastleigh. The project, which is funded by the Big Lottery Fund, provides young carers with much-needed respite including days out, weekly club nights and residential breaks.
“I always strived to do the best I possibly could because I wanted to get myself out of the situation I was in at home,” Jenny says. “I always wanted to be better and do better than my family. It can go two ways when you’re a young carer, you can either get entrenched in it and it becomes your life, or you can try to rise above it – that’s what I always tried to do.
“I lacked confidence, but if I’d had a project like One Community Eastleigh to go to where I could just talk, where no one would judge me and where it wouldn’t have got back to my family, I think it would have really helped me. It would have probably prevented me from having a breakdown.”
More recently One Community Eastleigh – in partnership with six other Hampshire organisations – was awarded close to £1m funding from BIG’s Youth in Focus programme to deliver a three-year project called Hampshire Young Carers. The project will give statutory agencies and schools the skills and knowledge needed to identify and better support young carers and their families, deliver group activities and youth clubs for young carers both inside and outside of school, and will work with the families of young carers to help them address the issues that affect their children.
For more information about One Community Eastleigh, visit: www.1community.org.uk/pages/home.aspx
*name changed to protect identity