ROSIE Chipchase feels as though she has always been a carer, which doesn’t sound particularly dismaying until you learn that she is just eight years old.
The washing up, laundry, ironing and sweeping the floor are chores that Rosie, of Spalding, takes in her stride because her mum, Maria Dowling, has a serious illness and her twin brother Connor is autistic.
Rosie attends St Norbert’s Catholic Primary School and says some of her friends already know she is a carer but when she tries to tell others, “they just go off and play”.
What has given her the greatest help over the last year is Action for Young Carers, and Rosie says: “The most important thing they did was to tell me about my mum and how things are difficult for her, because it was hard to talk to mum about what was wrong. They told me about my brother Connor, and it was good to have someone to talk to out of the family. It made me feel better. We have some help and it makes me feel happy.”
Rosie is not alone: it is estimated there are 4,000 young carers in Lincolnshire alone and 175,000 nationally, although the chances are the figures are far higher but people are not always willing to admit a child is caring for them.
Beth Fowler, of Pinchbeck, is 15, and says she has been a carer “pretty much since I was born”. Her older brother Thomas was disabled – the ninth anniversary of his death has just passed – and then her mum, Jenni Gambba-Jones, fell ill.
Beth says: “I didn’t realise I was a young carer until I moved to Lincolnshire three or four years ago. When I joined Bourne Academy and told my teachers what it was like at home they said I was a young carer. Action for Young Carers started supporting me and introduced me to other young carers and I wasn’t alone. Friendship is the main thing, not just the other young carers, but the staff are so friendly and like one big family.
“I feel I have responsibilities but I am proud to be a young carer because it is preparing me for life ahead. It’s quite stressful and upsetting sometimes and I do worry about what’s going to happen to mum if I want to have a career somewhere else, but I try not to let that take over my head too much.”
Shannon Williams-Holland of Donington is 14 and she too feels she has been caring most of her life. Her dad is disabled and then her mother fell ill a few years ago.
She says: “I was used to it with my dad because it was part of what happened, but with mum it hit me that there is more to do now. I was confused at first because I always had my mum to talk to about my dad and I felt on my own.”
What Action for Young Carers has given Shannon is “a lot of confidence”, both as a carer and in her personal life, and she adds: “I didn’t want to tell anyone about dad before but I can talk about it with people now.”