Belfast Telegraph

Young carers call for more support at Christmas

Young carers who care for family members have called for counselling and support groups to help them

Carer Shauna Tighe with her brother Daniel at their home in Tallaght Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)
Carer Shauna Tighe with her brother Daniel at their home in Tallaght Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

By Aine McMahon PA

For most young people Christmas is a time to relax and enjoy free time with friends, but for the thousands of young people who act as carers, it can be a difficult time.

Census figures for 2016 showed that there were 3,800 carers in the Republic of Ireland under the age of 15.

According to Family Carers Ireland – the actual number of young people who look after family members in Ireland is much higher as some may not self-identify as a carer.

The organisation has said young carers need more state support than they are given, particularly during school holidays and Christmas.

Young carer Shauna Tighe, from Tallaght in Dublin, was three years old when her brother Daniel was born with the rare genetic condition called Sotos Syndrome.

Sotos syndrome is a severe intellectual disability that means Daniel experiences epilepsy and sensory-processing.

Shauna, now 15, wakes at around 6am to help Daniel get ready for school, and comes home from school to play with him, feed him and comfort him.

Shauna is one of thousands of children caring for siblings and relatives in the home and without her support, her mother Sinead Tighe said caring for Daniel without her help would be much harder.

Shauna says because Daniel is her only sibling, they share “an unbreakable bond.”

“Daniel is non-verbal, he’s incontinent and he is prone to having very bad seizure. Despite that he is a very happy, smiley boy and he loves his sister,” her mother added.

Ms Tighe says Christmas can be a difficult time as there is the added pressures of seeing families on social media.

Shauna says because Daniel is her only sibling, they share “an unbreakable bond.”

“I have to do my Leaving Cert next year so it can be tough when I have a hard day at school and then have to come home as it can be quite tiring. Daniel’s condition means he can wake up a lot during the night,” says Shauna.

“Daniel is becoming a teenager so his behaviour can be quite challenging some time and he can ware us all out. At the end of the day though, he’s my brother and I love him and would do anything for him.”

Shauna says young carers need more leeway with homework and study, particular if they are in an important exam year.

“It would be great if there was more counselling for young carers as it can be quite lonely and isolating at times. Your friends might not understand why you can’t come out to see them or what it is like to have a brother who is disabled,” she said

“To Daniel, Christmas is just another day for him. I don’t really like social media at this time of year because it can be hard looking at other families who seem like they have no problems but we make the best of it and make sure it’s a nice time for Daniel.”

Aine Grant, from Co Donegal, cares for her mother, Nuala aged 58, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

The 19-year-was awarded overall Young Carer of the Year earlier this year after she was nominated by her mother’s friend.

Aine first became a carer for her mother when she was in her Leaving Certificate year at school.

When Aine finished school, she decided to take up a full time caring role, but she says her close relationship with her mother meant she did not give it a second thought.

She says she is fortunate to have great support from her father, Liam and older sister Niamh, who works in Letterkenny – while her other sister works as a primary school teacher in London.

“I take my mam to appointments, give her medication, get her up in the morning and get her washed and fed – it is not something I was every told or trained to do – I just get on with it and I enjoy it,” she says.

Aine told how the award “gives you a wee boost to keep going and let’s you think that maybe you are doing a good job”.

She agrees with Shauna that there is a lack of outside support and respite for young carers – particularly at Christmas.

“There is a lack of support for carers, particularly young ones in rural areas but receiving the award in Dublin made me realise I am not alone,” she said.

“We could all do with more help or a wee bit of a break at Christmas but my family will still make it a good Christmas for mum.”
she said.
“There are people who would not define themselves as carers but that is exactly what they are and I don’t know where we would be without them.”

She foresees caring among her generation becoming more common as an increasing number of people are becoming diagnosed with Dementia and Alzheimer’s.

“They’re still seen as disease s for older or very elderly people but as my mammy shows, it is not just old people – she was very fit and healthy before she started showing symptoms,” she says.

“It can come very much out of the blue for some people and they can deteriorate rapidly in front of their family’s eyes so it is not something people can ever prepare for.”

PA

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