Charlie, 19, has been a carer for most of her life. She cares for both her younger sister, who has epilepsy, and for her dad, who has a cognitive impairment disorder.
Since the age of 14, Charlie has been a member of the Norfolk Young Carers’ Forum and the local area forum. Both are supported by the charity Caring Together as part of Norfolk and Waveney Integrated Care System. The forum helps to recognise the lives of young carers and ensure that health, care and education services across Norfolk understand their needs.
The forum has carried out surveys of young carers and ran a conference for people working across the health and care system. Forum members have recorded videos and shared their experiences and reviewed all of the materials which are used in carer-awareness training.
Charlie has put a lot into the forum, and got a lot out of it. It’s fair to say that it has had a hugely positive effect on her life.
She has received first aid and money management training to help with her caring activities. Charlie also helps to raise awareness of young carers, giving lectures at the University of East Anglia for trainee nurses and social workers, sometimes with up to 150 people.
Charlie says: “At first I was surprised they gave a 15-year-old the responsibility of doing the lectures, but I’m used to it now. It’s still nerve-wracking but I know exactly what I am doing.
“I was a shy kid, but when I joined the forum I felt a real surge in confidence. It gave me a voice I never thought I needed and never thought I’d get.
“It gave me the confidence to make friends and to come to terms with who I am as a person, and to leave a workplace where I wasn’t happy and join one where I was.
“In the forum, everyone accepts who you are. Everyone is in a similar boat. They all just get it. I’ve made a lot of friends that I will be friends with for the rest of my life and pushed me to do what I want to do.”
One of the major ways that Charlie and the forum have helped make things better for young carers is through raising awareness in schools. Now, schools are much more aware that young carers have responsibilities which might affect their attendance or mean that they have to leave at a moment’s notice. Charlie believes that this work “has made schools a lot more carer friendly, and helped hundreds of young carers feel a lot safer and more accepted.”
Now, Charlie has got a new job as a waiter five minutes’ from home, and an employer that gets it.
“I explained to them that as a young carer if I get a call I will have to go, and they were very understanding.”
Charlie’s caring work continues. She is teaching her sister to cook so that she can live more independently. Charlie also has to check on her dad to make sure he has eaten and remind him where things are in the house.
When she reflects on five years in the forum, she is positive about the changes that have happened in that time. She remains committed to driving further change for young carers.
Charlie says: “I just want to make young carers’ lives a bit easier than mine was.”