Today (Wednesday 16 March) is Young Carers’ Action day, which aims to raise awareness of young carers and the incredible they make to their families and local communities. The theme of Young Carers’ Action Day this year is ‘Protect Young Carers’ Futures’, focusing on the incredible skills young carers develop through their role as a carer, and how these skills help set them up for the future. Here, Annie-Rose tells us about how her role caring for her mum and brothers set her up with the skills she needed to become a student nurse.
Hi my name is Annie-Rose Cutler, I’m 20 years old, I am a young adult carer and student nurse.
I have been a young carer for as long as I remember. I joined Young Carers in Herts (YCiH) at about age 9/10 years-old, and that was the first time I realised I was a young carer. My sister was receiving support from YCiH, and someone came by to talk to me about why I was a young carer. I remember being gifted a trampoline, because at the time I was too young to join the council as a member. But a year or so later I joined the young carer council, which is an important part of YCiH. I was very timid and shy when I first started on the council and felt anxious because I was the youngest person there!
Being a young carer and part of YCiH has given me the confidence I needed in myself. Before being a part of the council, I couldn’t speak up in public; I just wanted to fit in and not draw attention to myself. I looked at my fellow council members as role models, people who inspired me. The council allowed me to experience opportunities that I would never have had the chance to experience otherwise. Being part of the council challenges you, and helps you learn about yourself and how to be part of a team. It is a good experience that introduces you to a better level of understanding on topics like how to speak up and be a voice for other young carers. This is a skill that I can take forward to my nursing role, especially when advocating for patients and their rights. In correspondence to my council role, I had to get used to public speaking. I started with small sentences and I had a small voice, but now I am confident to talk and have my voice heard. The council and YCiH gave me the self-assurance to take risks and challenge myself to go out of my comfort zone and do more. I started as a regular member, and then became Vice-Chair and then Chair. The self-assurance and personal growth that the YCiH team assisted me with over the years meant that I was nominated for ‘The Hertfordshire Young Person of the Year award’, and to my surprise, I won!
I am a carer for my mum and two brothers. When I was younger, I felt I had more of a physical ‘caring responsibility’ to them. However, recently the caring role has changed naturally due to the natural progression of life. This has made me think that my caring role had diminished, causing me to feel guilty, which made me question ‘am I still considered a carer?’, ‘am I lazy?’, ‘is there any more I can do?’. What I have realised though, is that caring doesn’t go away, but it instead changes. When I was younger, my caring responsibilities were more physical, such as helping around the house, and helping to look after my brothers, but right now my caring role is focused more towards emotional support and smaller physical tasks.
My nursing training has made me more fearful of old age, the control you lose, fearful about the implications it might have for my parents and how this will affect me as a carer in future. I also worry about COVID and other infections I might pick up at work and bring into the house. Mum worries about this too, especially considering she cleans all my clothes.
My passion for nursing has come from my mum. She started her nurse training but had to succumb to her medical condition, which restricts her mobility, therefore making nursing impractical for her. In my personal statement, I reflected upon my role as a young carer; how caring for my brothers and my mum, through helping and supporting them with their own health conditions, has made me confident to work with others who live with mental health conditions and learning disabilities. Caring has made me hardworking, built my confidence and allowed me to develop qualities I never would have had the opportunity to gain otherwise. The skills and knowledge I have learnt have been life-changing and I can take them with me everywhere I go.
Being a young carer and incorporating this into my personal statement was the reason I received an unconditional offer for my university choice. Having this offer relieved the pressure if the exams did not go to plan.
Sometimes people assume being a young carer is everything that you are. It is important to recognise young carers as individuals and not stereotype us together. When people talk about the statistics around young carers, they are keen to talk about the higher prevalence of poorer grades, when in reality, grades can falter for numerous reasons including; loss of motivation or not getting help earlier, for example. This topic of poorer grades being more prevalent can cause young carers to feel like you are being written off before even starting! It is the suggestion that you cannot get good grades no matter how hard-working you are. But this is not the case! It was not nice to hear this all the time as it felt like people did not expect us to achieve anything and it could be overwhelming. Caring is part of who we are as individuals, but that does not necessarily mean it is everything you are, and people need to recognise this more and hear and tell our inspiring stories.
Being a young carer has made me more resilient and enabled me to draw on my own strengths to manage difficult and challenging situations. It has given me an emotional maturity and emotional intelligence. This has helped with the transition from young carer to young adult carer, where the support becomes less hands-on and interactive with other carers. Now I am young adult carer I do miss having a named person to speak to that I had before transition.
One message I would like to give to young carers; if you have a concern, speak up about it. Don’t suffer in silence. You are not just a young carer, you are an individual and you deserve support if you need it!
NHS England and NHS Improvement heard about Annie-Rose through its work to support young carers.
The Young Carers Health Champion programme was established in 2015 to support improved health literacy, promote health and wellbeing and develop the capacity of young carers to participate in planning and development of young carer friendly services. It aims to support service change through young carer voices.
The 12-month programme is made up of young carers (aged between 16 – 24) from across the country. They experience self-development, be part of healthcare initiatives that aim to improve young carer identification and support and develop an action plan with outcomes that further support young carer friendly services.
Over the past 6 years over 70 young carers have been involved in the programme and produced some amazing resources available to the NHS. They have had the opportunity to influence policy by presenting at a variety of meetings and events, including with Ministers and the NHS Board. The new 2021 group will begin on April 1 and will be focusing on the NHS Long Term Plan objective; to roll out “top tips” for general practice which have been developed by young carers, which include access to preventative health and social prescribing, and timely referral to local support services. Up to 20,000 young carers will benefit from this more proactive approach by 2023/24.
For more information, please contact Paula Cruise at firstname.lastname@example.org.