A young carer is someone under the age of 18 who helps look after a family member or a friend who is ill, disabled or misuses drugs or alcohol. There are about 700,000 young carers in the UK, so there are likely to be young carers in every school and college. In this blog, written by information development nurse Teri, we explain what can help young carers and how they can feel more supported.

Being diagnosed with cancer is stressful enough, but it can be even harder if you need to depend on a young carer. It can be difficult having to rely on someone so young to do things that other people their age might not have to do.

Being a young carer can affect their emotional and physical well-being. You may worry how it is affecting their school work, free time and relationships. It’s also difficult to know how your caring needs may change and if your young carer may later need more urgent support.

Often a young carer may not even realise that they are a carer, so they may not know what support is available to them.

Here are some ways you can help support a young carer:

  • Remind your young carer to also look after their own health
    For example, they may be entitled to a free flu vaccination. If they are taking any medicines regularly, remind them to take them and to have a good supply of these.

  • Encourage them to talk to someone
    They could talk to a friend, teacher or another family member. If they are struggling to cope or are feeling low, it may be a good idea for them to see a counsellor. It can sometimes help to speak to someone who is not directly involved in the situation. Their GP can refer them to a counsellor, or there may be one at their school or college.

  • Suggest they join a young carers’ project
    These are support groups where young carers can meet or talk to other young carers or chat to them online. Young carer workers run these projects and they offer help, information and a chance for the carer to have a break or do something fun. Go to youngcarer.com/young-carer-services to find a young carers’ project near you.

  • Suggest that they let their school, college or work know
    It can help to let their school, college or manager at work know what is going on. They may be able to offer extra support. Young carers can read more about this themselves in our booklet A guide for young people looking after someone with cancer.

  • Tell them that it’s important to take breaks
    Having some time to themselves can help them relax and feel more able to cope. This can help you, too. Encourage them to try to relax or do something they enjoy, such as reading, listening to music, going for a walk or meeting friends. Going for a short walk or just being outside for a while may also help them to feel less tired or stressed.

  • Suggest trying relaxation techniques
    There are relaxation CDs, DVDs or podcasts that may be available at the local library or online. Your local Carers’ Centre or Macmillan Information and Support Centre may also offer free complementary therapies for carers that offer therapies that may help them to relax.

  • Remember that young carers may have difficulty sleeping
    Many carers say they find it difficult to relax at night, but some services have care attendants who can provide support in the evenings. Your local social services or the Carers Trust will be able to tell you what is available in your area, so you do not always need to rely on your young carer. You could also suggest things they could try to help them sleep, such as reading a book or magazine before going to sleep, having a break from their phone, laptop or TV for half an hour before bedtime or writing a diary or to-do list for the next day. We have information for people with cancer who have difficulty sleeping, which may also be helpful for a carer.

  • Try to make sure they eat well
    Encourage them to eat healthily, but remind them it’s ok to treat themselves to their favourite foods sometimes too.

  • Remember you can ask for a young carer’s assessment
    Any young carer or their family can ask for a local social worker to visit them and do a young carer’s assessment. This is a chat to find out what might help. You can find out more from your local council or speak to your GP, who can refer you for a young carer’s assessment.

  • Benefits and financial help
    If you are getting certain benefits and your carer is aged over 16, they may be able to get a benefit called Carer’s Allowance. This is paid to people who look after someone for 35 hours a week or more. You can speak to a social worker about this, call Macmillan free on 0808 808 00 00 or visit macmillan.org.uk/benefits

  • Let them know there are organisations that can help
    There are charities just for young people, like The Children’s Society, and there are charities that support you and your family, such as Family Action. Charities like Carers Trust and Carers UK for anyone who looks after someone who is ill or disabled.

These are just some of the things you can do to support a young person who is looking after you. We have more information for young carers in our booklet A guide for young people looking after someone with cancer.

To see what else Macmillan's cancer information team has been blogging about, please visit our blog home page! You can subscribe to receive our blogs by email or RSS too.

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The Macmillan team is here to help. Our cancer support specialists can answer your questions, offer support, or simply listen if you need a chat. Call us free on 0808 808 00 00.

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