Charity puts spotlight on isolation of young carers
Almost half of young carers will spend more than four hours a day this summer looking after a relative, a survey has revealed.
And 73% of the under-18s who took part will feel lonely during the school holiday, research carried out by the Action for Children charity found.
The 47% who spend more than four hours a day caring for a relative are losing the equivalent of an entire week of their holidays, the charity said.
And while many families across Northern Ireland are enjoying quality time together on a trip away, thousands of young carers remain trapped at home.
More than one in five (21%) surveyed said they have never been on a summer holiday with their family.
With so much time taken up caring for loved ones and less time to relax, more than two-thirds (68%) feel more stressed or worried during the holidays; while more than half (57%) worry about talking about what they did in the summer break when they go back to school.
There are an estimated 700,000 children and young people across the UK caring for a family member with a disability, illness or mental health problem - some as young as five.
Typically, young carers help with practical tasks around the home such as cooking, housework and shopping.
Others offer physical care, such as helping someone out of bed; and personal care, such as helping someone dress.
Dawn Shaw, Action for Children's director in Northern Ireland, said: "The summer holidays can be heartbreaking for young carers who are often isolated and trapped at home while their friends are having fun in the sunshine, playing sports or enjoying adventures abroad.
"We see first-hand the awful impact of loneliness and stress on young carers, who are desperate for a break from their duties and to have a bit of fun; that's why young carer respite services are a lifeline for them.
"We are delighted that Action for Children secured the continuation of funding for support for young carers in the Belfast, Southern and South Eastern Trust areas so we can continue to provide vital support in these areas."
The charity's children's services manager Wendy McKimmie explained the vital role that it offers young carers.
"The young carers project sees the increased pressure young carers and their families face during the summer holidays," she said.
"School for many of our young carers is often an opportunity to get a break from their caring role, with no school in place their caring role often increases as does their isolation and opportunities to socialise with their peers.
"Staff in the young carers project often find that one-to-one sessions increase over the summer holidays; parents and young people find it difficult to cope with the increase in the caring role and isolation [and] this puts added pressure on the family, and they often need a break.
Ms McKimmie added that the charity's Young Carers Service had another very successful annual fun day in June at the Ulster Folk Museum, where "119 young carers and their families attended and had the opportunity to enjoy activities as a whole family".