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Tuesday, 23 December 2014

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I’ve taken childhood totally for granted...and probably so have you

Mornings aren’t easy when you’re an early riser. All that rushing in and out of shower or bath, battling with hairdryer, makeup, boiling kettles and packed lunches. And all to be up, out and on the road before the birds open their beaks to cough.

Carer photo
The Give Them A Break appeal will give these children a chance to reclaim a little of their childhood

It would have been tempting to suggest it gets harder as you grow older – had I not just learned something different.

Try coping with a frantic early morning routine which includes bathing and dressing your disabled mum, getting your sister or brother ready for school and running round the house with the Hoover before setting out to classes yourself... and you’re still only eight years old.

That’s what I call hard.

To my shame, I had no idea until very recently that thousands of Cumbrian children – some as young as four and five – deal with caring responsibilities that make my morning rush look like a lazy stroll in the park.

Day in, day out, they medicate invalid or disabled parents and siblings; they take charge of shopping, cleaning, washing, cooking. They are heads of their households before their ages have hit double figures.

Many of them cope somewhere distantly beyond the official radars of caring and supporting agencies which could help. Many of them manage because they know no different – and because if they didn’t, nobody else would.

These children are nothing short of wonders – but they present us with a challenging dilemma. While the way they meet the needs of their families by adapting their lives is obviously heroic, should we actually be allowing it?

Is it acceptable that such heavy burdens of onerous, multi-tasking responsibility should weigh so heavily on the tiny shoulders of kiddies barely out of nappies?

The News & Star has launched a campaign to raise funds to pay for respite for hundreds of the children and young people in Cumbria struggling against enormous odds to keep their families together and to offer practical, unconditional love to their nearest and dearest.

Our Give Them A Break appeal aims to fund days out, little holiday breaks, theme park visits, trips to the seaside and sporting events – anything, in fact, likely to give these children a chance to reclaim a little of the childhood they have so willingly sacrificed.

All our MPs have wholeheartedly thrown their weight behind the campaign, which is wonderful. For that and to them we – along with the young carers and their families – are genuinely grateful.

But, while fiercely championing this desperately important children’s cause, I confess to having a problem with why and how extraordinary young lives of giving without plea for reward have to be highlighted in the pages of a local newspaper.

It seems to be accepted everywhere that while ever these children can cope, they will be allowed to do so. And that baffles and disturbs me.

A child isn’t allowed to take on a paper round until he or she is 13 years old. No youngster can expect to work in full time employment until they are past 16. They are not permitted an electoral voice until they are 18... and we stopped sending them up chimneys centuries ago.

But at four, five, seven and 12 – the majority are 12 – we will happily allow them to administer medication to their parents; clean, dress and bind weeping wounds; shop, clean, cook, order household routine – and all the while study at school to grab whatever they can for what will be left of their own lives when they finally have a chance to look to them.

No one has yet questioned the morality of that. Not a politician, no formal agency of care, no vocal action group dedicated to the wellbeing of children. That surprises, angers and upsets me.

My childhood was happy and relatively easy. I was loved, looked after and encouraged in everything I wanted to do by two devoted, protective and mercifully healthy parents.

I innocently believed all children were like me – just as those who offer their lives to caring believe all youngsters share their exhausting circumstances.

We have all been wrong in our assumptions. But those of us who have been more fortunate are surely under obligation to shout up for children who lose their childhood before ever knowing they were due to one.

Together we will do that. But first, let’s demonstrate how much we appreciate all they do in the name of love, family, uncomplaining sacrifice and devotion. Let’s find the funds to give them a break. Then let’s make enough noise to ensure that others who have the money – (take a look at The Sunday Times Rich List, should you doubt it) – the expertise and wherewithal to give these little children and their families the care and support they so badly need, hear our anger and pledge to make a meaningful difference.

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, contact anne.pickles@cnmedia.co.uk on 01228 612748.

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Christmas gift and food shopping all finished?

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