Belfast Telegraph

I couldn't cope without my little superhero Alex (9), says mother


By Staff Reporter

Nine-year-old Alex Tavey's life is very different from that of his friends. While the rest of his primary five class are enjoying hobbies or playing on games consoles after school, Alex is pitching in to help care for his younger siblings.

Alex is one of 6,500 children under the age of 16 in Northern Ireland being recognised for the sacrifice they make every day by taking on a caring role in the home.

Mum Martina (34) describes Alex as her "little superhero" and says she wouldn't be able to cope without him.

Martina, from Newry, battles "constant guilt" for the responsibility her little boy is shouldering, but she also admits that the role of helping with his younger sisters and brother comes naturally to him.

It was when her marriage broke up that Alex took on extra responsibility by helping out at home.

"I do feel constantly guilty for having to lean so heavily on Alex at such a young age, and he does not have a normal life of a young person," said Martina, who has four-year-old twin girls, Zoe and Ruby, both of whom have special needs.

Zoe has severe autism, is completely non-verbal and needs round-the-clock care.

Her sister Ruby has been diagnosed with learning difficulties.

Martina also has a seven-year-old son Podraig, who has vision problems.

Alex massively steps up to the plate to help his sisters and brother and support his mother.

He does Podraig's homework with him, helps with nappy duties and sits with Zoe, who cannot be left alone, while his mum carries out household chores.

Alex also has to accompany his mum in the car when Zoe needs to go anywhere because she tries to harm herself if she is left alone.

Last year he gave up his twice-weekly football practice and swimming classes so that he could be at home more to help his mum out.

For Martina, young carers like her son are the forgotten heroes of the care system.

She says her home life is a constant pressure and she is under such strain that she is always shouting orders at the kids and feels bad that it is Alex who takes the weight off.

"He has always been caring beyond his years," Martina added.

"Zoe needs round-the-clock care and Alex is always watching her and cleaning up her mess and never gets a break.

"He loves Zoe and she adores him.

"Both girls adore him. While Zoe is non-verbal, Ruby is the opposite and never stops talking and says the same thing over and over again."

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