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Children in Primary Caring Roles Focus of Workshop

15 July, 2005

Children in Primary Caring Roles Focus of Workshop

Children who support sick and disabled family members are invisible in health decision- making, a lapse that can contribute to school absenteeism and prevent under 18s from having an ordinary childhood.

Pania Tulia, a former young carer and spokesperson for Young Carers New Zealand, says it is not known how many children provide significant support for family members in New Zealand.

“Supporting your family is a positive thing. But in cases where children have too many or inappropriate responsibilities the long-term effects can be hurtful. I experienced this in my own family.”

Ms Tulia’s mother was paralysed in a motorbike accident. Her four siblings – the youngest was three at the time of her mother’s injury – received scant attention from public and health agencies. Ms Tulia lived with her father, but was distressed by the 24/7 responsibilities of her siblings, which included taking their mother to the toilet on their skateboard.

Now 31 and a social worker with three children of her own, Ms Tulia is a volunteer leader for Young Carers NZ, a national group that aims to give young carers a formal voice with educators, government, and agencies such as ACC.

Initial findings from a pilot study undertaken by the Children’s Issues Centre in Otago suggest that a quarter of children in caring roles perform intimate cares for a family member, which can include assistance with bathing, dressing, meals, and toileting. The draft report, commissioned by Carers New Zealand with funding from the Ministry of Health, suggests that children also provide significant levels of emotional support to family members.

The final report will be delivered to the Ministry next month.

Young Carers NZ will host a workshop in Wellington on 21 July to raise government and professional awareness of the long-term impacts too much caring can have on children. Speakers at the workshop will include Jenny Frank, the national program director for Britain’s publicly funded Young Carers Initiative, and Daryn Elston-Smith, a New Zealander and former child carer who is employed by Carers NSW. The event is being sponsored by Child, Youth and Family and the Children’s Commissioner.

Young Carers New Zealand will meet that morning with the UK and Australia delegates to discuss how the organisations can work together. The three countries have the only national young carer movements in the world.

Ms Tulia, representing Young Carers New Zealand, was last month elected to the executive committee of the NZ Carers Alliance, whose members include 35 national NGOs. The Carers Alliance is lobbying for a specific national strategy and recognition legislation for New Zealand carers. One in five New Zealanders provides support for a family member who is frail, sick, injured, disabled, or experiencing a mental illness.

Ms Tulia said schools are a logical place to start identifying and supporting young carers.

Providers of key services to families, such as home care and needs assessment, will also be targeted so they understand that the whole family – including children – needs support and inclusion in health decision-making, she says.


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