Angie Robinson is a National Improvement Lead for NHS Improving Quality’s Experience of Care team
A time for reflection….
Last week we helped a group of young carers convene a meeting at London Zoo with health and care leaders, to help these senior decision-makers really understand what it’s like being one of the thousands of young carers in England.
Sitting at the station waiting for my train to arrive, I watched the hustle and bustle of the daily commuters, people visiting friends and family and children watching the trains with excitement. I sipped my hot chocolate and wondered how many of these people “looked after someone”. There was no way of knowing. At the Young Carers event they had cleverly put coloured dots on our badges and made us stand up to visually represent the stats. How many red dots would I need for the people in the station? I also thought long and hard about what I had heard. A young carer told us that 38% of young carers were reported to have mental health issues but she then went on to say “this is only from the proportion of people who speak out”.
My personal experience of “looking after someone” was for both my parents, who have sadly passed on. Even though I am an adult, with an established network of connections to call on for help, I remember this being a difficult time, and exhausting! But I was lucky! I had really good support from my family and friends, and work was fantastic. Caring for my own parents was relatively short-term – it did not define my whole life! The stories the young carers shared with us put a lump in my throat and I am so glad that I wore waterproof mascara. A real sense of togetherness was felt in the room. We often talk about “partnership working” but the young carers event today showed me the true value, a room full of people listening and truly wanting to make a difference. “Putting ourselves in their shoes”. One illuminating exercise used a timeline, from the age of 5 to 25, identifying all the things we had got up to. We were then given a scenario – overnight we were transformed into young carers – what things were we still able to do? I sat there putting crosses through all the things I had enjoyed in my childhood and realised how powerful this exercise had been.
I experienced my first “selfie” with one of the young carers (Thank you Russell). You will be pleased to know that I did not quite get round to photo bombing but I can’t deny I was tempted!
It was a young carer called Jo who inspired me to write this blog and take my “pinky promise” writing my first ever blog and hopefully sharing it far and wide to inspire my colleagues to “Think Young Carers”. If we all thought about the people we know and come into contact with on a daily basis, who look after someone, and we stopped and asked them how they were, we could be helping so many people to seek the help and support that is right for their needs – not only for “young” carers but for all carers – the “invisible” glue that holds our families together.