According to research by the Children’s Society there are estimated to be 700,000 young carers aged between 5 and 17 years old in the UK.
That figure surprise many people, and the charity goes on to explain how caring at a young age can impact a young persons’ education, health, development and quality of life.
Lavelle Niles was a young carer for her mother from the age of 8, when her mum was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
Lavelle is now in her third year of a four year degree and has an internship at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust. She is using Genie, a social networking and mapping tool, to interview young carers aged between 16 and 25 in the UK.
The interviews and experiences of the people Lavelle talks to will give much needed insight into an area that has little research available.
Typically the online Genie tool is used by a facilitator alongside someone who has a health condition. Together they will draw up a circle of close and not so close contacts for that individual showing their social network. That network can then be mapped across to activities or support in their local community, and give them choices of what activities and support they would like to take advantage of.
Lavelle is now 24 and three years ago left the tiny Caribbean Island she grew up on to come and study Healthcare Management, Policy and Research at the Faculty of Health Sciences in the University of Southampton.
“I grew up in a very close knit community of maybe 20,000 people on the island of Anguilla. I was well supported as a young carer, everybody knows everybody.
I could come to university and my sister was able to as well, because the support of close family and friends.
Even school friends of my mum who hadn’t met me would offer to help us”
Lavelle says that her experience as a young carer was good and she wanted to understand why it was so different here in a bigger society.
“Rather than just do research on anything I wanted to examine something that was close to my heart, and that’s why using Genie help young people and understand their lives a little more fitted.”
Genie can be used to find out who is in a young persons’ care network, an aunt, uncle, cousin, neighbour. From there they have the opportunity to connect to activities and groups that can support their quality of life.
Lavelle’s study is just going through the Ethics stage of its research journey, and will soon begin collecting data from our local community in Wessex.