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New Zealand children caring for family members

21 February, 2005

Support for New Zealand children caring for family members

A new network for under 18s who support sick and disabled family members was launched in Auckland at the weekend with funding support and a visit from Cindy Kiro, the Children¹s Commissioner.

Forum spokeswoman Pania Tulia says little is known about New Zealand¹s young carers, and how their responsibilities impact on their childhood experiences, education, development, and opportunities in adulthood.

Ms Tulia and her four siblings cared for their mother, who was paralysed after a motorbike accident when her youngest child was just three. The children became her primary carers, helping her to the toilet on their skateboard.

³Often people are shocked to hear that some children in New Zealand have significant caring responsibilities for a sibling or parent. We need to look harder as a society to identify these children and provide them with appropriate resources and supports.²

³A beginning is to help young carers know they are not alone ­ that there are lots of young carers just like them in New Zealand, and that they have rights.²

Children¹s Commissioner Cindy Kiro says it is very important that the voice of this group of young people is clearly heard. Dr Kiro says there needs to be increased awareness among government and community agencies about the needs and rights of young carers.

³This weekend¹s meeting is significant because we have a group of young carers meeting to talk about issues and solutions that will work for them. These issues and solutions are probably quite different than those facing adults.²

Forum participants discussed how to ensure the needs of young carers are better understood in New Zealand, and how to express these to those whose decisions impact their lives, including Government. The Forum has already built relationships with young carer movements in other countries, particularly Britain and Australia.

Young carers at the Forum received a letter of support from British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose government developed a National Strategy for Carers in 1999 which includes recognition and rights for young carers. His empathy for young carers springs from his own childhood experiences following his father¹s stroke.

One in five New Zealanders provides support for someone who is frail, aged, sick, injured, disabled, or experiencing a mental illness. It is not known how many children in New Zealand have caring commitments for a family member.

A young carers pilot research project in Otago, funded by the Ministry of Health and undertaken on behalf of Carers New Zealand by the Children¹s Issues Centre, will release its final report soon. The report will include recommendations to improve recognition and understanding of young carers¹ needs.

Ms Tulia says the Young Carers Forum hopes to coordinate exchange visits with Britain¹s Young Carers Initiative, and the emerging national young carers network operating in Australia. Both overseas movements are publicly funded. The Forum also intends to develop information resources for distribution to schools and health professions.

The Forum will meet regularly as a special interest group within Carers New Zealand. Its news can be viewed online at www.carers.net.nz


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