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Thursday, 31 July 2014

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Cumbria's young carers - some aged just four

The shocking truth about the troubled lives of thousands of Cumbrian youngsters is revealed today as we find children as young as four caring for sick and disabled parents and siblings.

Carer photo
Our campaign aims to give young carers a much-needed break

In west Cumbria, one 12-year-old has been looking after his wheelchair-bound mother since he was two. Others aged five, six and seven are among thousands of child carers, routinely taking charge of housework, shopping, cooking, bathing, dressing and giving medicines to their parents, brothers and sisters, then going to school.

The average age of young carers in Cumbria is 12 but many are much younger.

In Carlisle there are at least 900, in Eden 700 and in Allerdale and Copeland together nearly 1,800. Only a fraction of them are able to be helped by resource-stretched carers’ support networks.

In Carlisle 110 are registered with Carlisle Carers, in Eden 170 and in west Cumbria 240.

“Many don’t know they are special because they don’t know any other life,” said Dawn Kenyon, chief executive of Carlisle Carers, a charity dedicated toproviding support for carers of all ages in Carlisle and district.

“They do what they do because they love the people they care for. But they miss so much of childhood and are often troubled because they don’t do well at school and aren’t easily able to form friendships with other children.”

At Eden Carers, based in Penrith, chief officer Cilla Clarke said she had recently taken a girl aged four-and-a half onto the books.

“We wouldn’t ordinarily register young carers below the age of five,” she said. “But this little girl, already caring for her mum who has epilepsy, will be going to school in September and her mother worried she might need support as she started.

“We couldn’t turn her away.”

At west Cumbria Carers, Michelle Watson, young carers project team leader, cited Garry as an example of a child devoted to duty.

“He is a 12-year-old only child,” she said. “His father passed away when he was two. Garry’s mother has multiple sclerosis and is wheelchair-bound. He has been looking after his mum since he was two.

“Garry helps with the cooking and cleaning, goes to the shops for Mum when she is having a particularly bad day and can’t get out of the house. It’s heartbreaking. Some of these children are mere babies when they take on their caring responsibilities.”

The News & Star today launches our Give Them a Break campaign to raise around £20,000 to pay for respite breaks for children across north and west Cumbria.

All money raised will be spent on trips to the seaside, theme parks, sports and play events – treats most adults hold in their minds as treasured childhood memories.

Dawn said: “Funding for any voluntary organisation is extremely short. We stretch our resources as far as we can but what these kids really need is respite from the lives they have at home. At times, money for that can be very hard to find.”

HOW TO GIVE

You can help Give Them A Break by making cheques payable to Eden Carers and sending to Eden Carers at The Office, Mardale Road, Penrith, CA11 9EH or to Anne Pickles at Cumbrian Newspapers, Newspaper House, Dalston Road, Carlisle, CA2 5UA.

At the end of the appeal all money received by Eden Carers will be split equally between Carlisle, Eden and West Cumbria Carers.

To donate online, go to www.everyclick.com/edencarers

If you plan to organise a fundraising event, please contact Anne Pickles on 01228 612748.

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