Young Carers – the world at their feet

From June 10-16th 2019, the UK is recognizing the 6.5 million people who take care of family members of friends with a disability, physical or mental illness. This #CarersWeek, we are looking back on our work with the North Tyneside Young Carers Association (NTYCA) and celebrating the young people who give so much of themselves, every single day.

Song “Unwind” by young carers, recorded as part of their social action project

Young Carers in the Lead

The NTYCA identifies children and young people between the ages of 5 and 18, who provide physical or emotional care to a family member coping with challenges from physical health problems to substance misuse. Central to this work is an understanding of the agency of young people.

In 2018, we worked on a Comic Relief-funded programme with the NTYCA to ensure that they truly incorporated the spirit of participation in their work, and drew upon children’s knowledge and expertise to inform what they did.

Over 40 years, the Child to Child principles have been adopted by organisations across the world to increase the impact of their work. Interestingly, the Programme Manager at NYTCA came across the Child to Child approach during her time in Kenya, and years later was keen to apply it to her work in the UK.

Due to their roles as carers, a lot of young people may be socially isolated, with mental health and other needs. Children between the ages of 5 and 10 have unique caring roles particularly in terms of offering emotional support, which takes its toll on their experience of childhood. The NTYCA ensures that they have a space to share their experience and a voice, and adopt the whole-family approach, getting all family members to help facilitate positive change.

Apart from group meetings and outings to create shared experiences, there is also an element of supporting the young people to take social action. This was where Child to Child consultant Carolyn Conway came in, working with staff to truly enable the children to decide how they wanted to make a change.

Impact of participation

The training process engaged staff to step back and look at the way they approached young people, inviting them to transform their own roles as well as those of the young carers. For instance, previously the NTYCA ran regular groups and activities organized by age. According to Project Manager Anna Fox, following the training, “We realized we actually need to be asking the young people, what do you want to do?”

Once the participatory approach was understood, the team worked on assimilating it across the project. For instance, now, they get together every six to eight weeks and say, “We have x amount of money. What would you like to do?”

Participating in decisions concerning them gives children important life skills in terms of agency, communication and teamwork – as Carolyn phrases it, the power to A-C-T. This was illustrated by Kody Walker, a young carer who in 2019 was named the new North Tyneside youth council deputy young mayor. His journey from the quiet, shy boy to young leader is one that the NTYCA is proud to share.

Young carers, doing “Anything” they put their minds to

Some of the outcomes of the social action projects jointly decided and delivered by the NTYCA groups were the beautiful songs “Unwind” and “Anything.” These record their experiences as young carers and share messages of support like:

“Resilience and try again

Even in the mayhem…

We have the world at our feet

Young carers make the world complete.”

Transforming dynamics

At its core, Child to Child has a commitment to transforming the way organisations interact with young people. One powerful realization that comes with understanding participation was articulated by Anna: “We want to do the best for the kids all the time. But sometimes the best way of doing that is not to do everything for them!”