Caring for those who care

THE median age of young Western Australian carers is just 11 years, according to a study undertaken last year by Curtin University psychologist Dr Ros Morrow. A carer is someone who provides voluntary care and support for a family member, friend or neighbour who has a disability, is frail aged or who has a mental or chronic illness. Dr Morrow estimates there are 40,922 ‘hidden’ young carers under the age of 18 in WA, in addition to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2003 figures of 246,800 identified carers in WA. Non-profit group Carers WA provides assistance to family carers in the form of training, workshops, support programs, education and counselling services either in person, on a 24-hour hotline or via email. The group has been incorporated for more than 10 years and works in active partnership with carers, persons with care and support needs, health professionals, service providers, the Department of Seniors’ Interests and the wider community to improve the quality of life for carers, many of whom find their responsibilities overwhelming. Carers WA community relations manager Tina Williams said the organisation had 28 full-time staff and 23 volunteers currently working on a variety of programs, including Linking Together, which provided social opportunities for carers at low-cost, and a Young Carer program that incorporated youth camps. “As part of the Young Carer program we’ve organised for 36 young carers over the age of 14 to join the Leeuwin training ship for a four day sailing trip this week,” she said. Carers WA executive director Noreen Fynn said the reality of smaller family units and a very mobile population had contributed to the rising need for carers of working age, and particularly children, to look after disabled or ill family members. Ms Fynn said carers as young as six were increasingly becoming primary carers in single parent families, or in families where a parent was working, they were given responsibility of caring for disabled or ill siblings. “Teachers must understand the pressure young carers are under at home, particularly when these students struggle to get their assignments in on time, have their mobile phones on in class, or decide to drop out of school all together,” she said. “Young carers also don’t get much of a chance to get out and socialise with their peers, and this can seriously affect their self-esteem.” Carers WA hopes to give young carers this chance by moving from existing premises in North Perth to a new larger building bought by Lotterywest on Lord Street, East Perth later this year. The new office will be the first dedicated carers centre in WA and will act as a drop-in centre for young carers to complete homework after hours, meet their friends and participate in social and sporting activities. Ms Fynn said she hoped the space would be complete with community meeting rooms, a library area, book cafe, training areas and counselling rooms, but Carers WA required more corporate support to achieve its vision for the centre. Carers WA will share the space with complementary non-profit groups ARAFMI, an association of relatives and friends of the mentally ill, and the Partners of Veterans Association.

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