Caring for the mental health of young carers
Thousands of children across Europe care for a sick or elderly relative, potentially to the detriment of their schooling, social development and mental health. A pioneering EU-funded project will provide much-needed support for this largely unrecognised group of young people.
© Eurocarers, 2018
Young people caring for a sick family member tend to have more mental health problems and more behavioural and educational difficulties than their counterparts without caring responsibilities. They experience lower life satisfaction, greater levels of stress and anxiety, depression and other mental health problems.
Although no precise data exists on the number of young carers in Europe, research suggests that as many as 8 % of all children have caring responsibilities. In almost all cases, they are largely invisible to public authorities and health and social services.
To improve the well-being and mental health of these young people, the EU-funded ME-WE project will develop and implement innovative strategies and digital tools. It also aims to raise awareness about their situation and contribute to public policy initiatives to provide greater assistance and support.
Young carers should benefit from equal opportunities to realise their full potential through social inclusion, education and employment, says Francesca Centola at project communications partner Eurocarers. They are a vulnerable group of children and young people, deserving extra, tailored support. Doing so effectively will have positive consequences not only for them but for society as a whole. Caring can have negative and positive effects on a young person. It is important to act early, in a preventative way, by strengthening the adolescents ability to cope with stressful situations and enhancing the social support available to them.
Empowering through psychosocial interventions
The project will generate the first cross-national comparison of the needs and profiles of young carers, taking into account different legislative, cultural and social contexts across Italy, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
Building on that research, the team will develop innovative psychosocial interventions collaboratively designed by education, health and social care professionals and young carers themselves via blended learning networks, in which they are equal partners.
One hundred adolescents will participate in trials in each country, joining interventions that aim to mitigate risk factors by empowering them with the ability to negotiate, manage and adapt to sources of stress or trauma. Over the longer term, young carers will see their educational performance and employability improved as they have more time to study, less anxiety and more self-esteem.
Successful intervention techniques identified in ME-WE will be used to develop a mobile app to provide peer and professional support and coping strategies for young carers across Europe. The project team will share its key findings and best practices widely to contribute to the development of intervention networks in other countries as well as legislation and public policies to provide more support.
Many governments and service providers are unaware about adolescent carers, rather than unwilling to help. Hence, the first step is to raise awareness, says Elizabeth Hanson, professor of health sciences at Linnaeus University in Sweden and principal investigator of the ME-WE project. The second step is to conduct focused research in order to develop policies and translate the findings into practical strategies, such as effective psychosocial interventions, online tools and support networks.
Centola adds: Coming to terms with caring responsibilities while navigating the challenges of growing up going to school and university or entering the labour market can be overwhelming. This is particularly the case for adolescent young carers aged 15 to 17 as they are going through an important phase in their personal development.