Caring at Christmas
PUBLISHED: 00:16 16 November 2011 | UPDATED: 20:18 20 February 2013
This Christmas, one group of children has a very special request on their wish-list. Sadly, it's not likely to be granted. Katie Jarvis meets two of Gloucestershire's young carers
This Christmas, one group of children has a very special request on their wish-list. Sadly, its not likely to be granted. Katie Jarvis meets two of Gloucestershires young carers.
Fifteen-year-old Owen Knight feels sorry for many teenagers nowadays. Other kids parents work after school hours night-shifts and stuff so they dont get to see them much, he says. Im really lucky. Whenever I come home, my dads always there for me to chat to. Thats why Ive such a close bond with him.
This Christmas, Owen will be at home in Tewkesbury, as usual, with his dad and possibly a half-brother. Hes not the kind of lad wholl be demanding expensive presents but there is one major item on his wish-list. Obviously, he says (as if the question hardly needs to be asked), its to make my dad well. Not only do the words iPad or Xbox not pass his lips its fairly clear that they dont even cross his mind. He shrugs. That would be the same for everybody. If he was better, we could go out to football or go on holiday.
It might seem odd to the outsider that Owen considers himself so fortunate. His dad has been ill with ME for the last seven years, and Owen is the one who picks up the pieces. His parent split when he was very young and he lived with his mum and stepdad to begin with. But two years ago, Owen chose to move in with his dad which means he walked open-eyed into the role of sole carer.
My dads got a walking stick and he goes through good and bad spells. Hes got fibromyalgia as well. (These young carers toss out complicated medical terms with alarmingly familiar abandon.) His immune system is really low and his energy levels mean he isnt active for long in a day.
But hes great, my dad. If Ive got issues, hes there to help me. He always says to me that he feels really guilty but I say to him: I know the situation youre in. He always wants to take me on holiday and I always say: If you cant do it, you cant do it.
Its moving beyond words to hear these sentiments from a lad, who seems to have misread the teenage instruction manuals. The I WANT selfishness adolescents are supposed to display is absent from Owens vocabulary. Yet when he speaks, its with total unselfconsciousness: hes no saint in his own eyes; just an ordinary lad getting on with life.
If theres any downside, it doesnt lie in having to help in the garden his dad loves to grow flowers and vegetables or in doing the housework or making sure his dads tablets are in order. It lies in the inevitable anxiety he feels about the person he loves: Sometimes I text him when Im at school, just to make sure hes all right. I used to worry about him quite a lot but teachers got me out of the habit.
It wasnt always thus, as Jane Dyer communications manager for Gloucestershire Young Carers explains. Owen calls himself one of our success stories, she says.
When he first moved in with his dad, he was full of anger and aggression; his school-work was secondary in his life. But he received support not just from us but from Tewkesbury School, which has a brilliant support system in place called the TLC Centre. He explains that just being listened to, being heard, took away his aggression. Owen is now taking GCSEs with the aim of going to sixth form to study journalism.
Like many other charities, Gloucestershire Young Carers is facing cuts, which threaten the long-term future of its services. Yet what it does is unique. While other services focus on practical issues, this organisation which has just celebrated its 18th birthday concentrates on making sure young carers really do experience some kind of a childhood. There are local weekly groups, organised activities and even adventure camps for the kids. Above all, it looks out for these children who often dont even recognise themselves as young carers.
Tasmin Hesketh, 13, from Tewkesbury is a typical example. When I ask her if she ever has problems when caring for her mum on her own during the long hours of the night, she cheerfully says she doesnt. A few minutes later, shes chatting about sorting out her mums night-bag because her bladder doesnt work properly, and once having to get her back into bed after a fall.
This delightful and highly intelligent child lives two lives: one in the real world, in which her mum is wheelchair-bound; and one in her head, where anything can happen: Whenever Im stressed, I go there. I had this one daydream where I was campaigning against animal testing and I was actually crying in my bed!
What if testing animals could help your mum? I ask.
The way I think of it, it doesnt because animals will have different reactions from humans, she says, emphatically.
Once again, her biggest daydream is the one where her mum gets well and manages to go and see one of the shows she takes part in acting and dance shows.
Tasmins mum has carers but often Tasmin is on her own, Jane says. They put all that in place for when shes at school; but, as soon as shes home, and in the middle of the night, its Tasmin and thats it.
Before young carers, I used to think there was no one who would understand me, Tasmin says. Then I came here and I made new friends. The people here understand me a lot better than my best friend at school because theyre in that situation. I can talk about problems with my mum and about worries at home.
These are extraordinary children. Extraordinary because they think theyre so ordinary. Its not just the things they do; its the things that cant be done for them. Often, theres no one to wipe their brow when theyre exhausted; to pamper them occasionally; or to tuck them in bed and tell them everything will be all right. In short, to make them feel like carefree children, except for Gloucestershire Young Carers, that is. And long may its work continue.
For more information, or to donate, log onto www.gloucestershireyoungcarers.co.uk or call 01452 733060.