‘We don’t want the cycle to repeat itself’ - Redbridge young carers reveal hidden hardships
- Credit: Archant
There are 27,000 carers in Redbridge, many of whom are teenagers and young adults. Following the recent introduction of the Care Act, reporter Mary O’Connor talks to some of the borough’s young carers about their everyday experiences and hardships, and why many still feel that they are falling through the gaps in health and social services
“Crystal would watch me doing things for my mum, so she would go and pick things up and help me tidy. She was like a mini carer,” she said.
Tarryn, 21, and her sister Lavinia, 23, have been full time carers for their mother – who suffers from several mental and physical health conditions including osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and post-traumatic stress disorder – since they can remember.
Their day starts early as they help their mother with general household duties like cleaning, cooking and personal care; in addition to caring for their two young babies.
Lavinia, who has a 16-month-old daughter, said: “It was particularly hard just after having Merlyn, because I had a C-section and I was in a lot of pain. I felt pretty useless, I wasn’t able to do the normal things I would do for my mum, like helping her in and out of the bath.”
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The sisters, who both live with their mother in Selbourne Road, Ilford, had no training to prepare them for the level of her emotional and physical needs, which often put strain on their relationship with her.
“We just sort of grew up with it – we picked things up as we went, you get used to how to deal with certain situations,” said Tarryn.
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Being taken away from their mother by social services was a persistent source of fear for the girls, as they had little support with her day to day care, other than occasional help from friends and neighbours.
The girls’ father, who worked day and night shifts as a bus driver, left when Tarryn was eight.
“We still have contact with him, but when he was there, he was either working or sleeping, so we would care for mum,” said Lavinia, who is in her final year of her illustration degree at the University of East London.
Ensuring their mother was well cared for, and that she attended her GP and hospital appointments often took its toll on the girls’ education.
Tarryn, who had ambitions to pursue a career in the performing arts and is now studying animal management at college, shelved her plans when she began to struggle at school with attendance and bullying.
“I was really proud of getting my GCSEs considering everything I was dealing with. I know that I was capable of getting As, but because I didn’t have that extra support from teachers I didn’t get those grades.”
The sisters are not remotely bitter about caring for their mother, instead showing incredible strength in the face of all they’ve experienced.
Lavinia said: “I remember when I was doing my GCSEs, one of the teachers said to me that if I didn’t come to school, I would fail. I said to them, ‘I can retake the exams, I can’t get another mum’.”
In the future, the girls hope to see greater understanding from professional bodies as to the role young carers play, so that others don’t have to go through the same things they did.
For both of them, it comes a lot closer to home as they watch their own daughters grow up, particularly as Lavinia, who previously self-harmed, has recently started getting help for her own mental health problems.
“I hope that the cycle doesn’t repeat with our kids. I’m getting help now so Merlyn doesn’t have to grow up as a carer. I don’t want her missing out on what I did, or to have to go through what I did,” said Lavinia.