Monday 27 January 2020

Teenagers who become family carers 'need help to lighten Christmas load'

Bond: Carer Shauna Tighe (15) with her brother Daniel (12). Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Bond: Carer Shauna Tighe (15) with her brother Daniel (12). Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Aine McMahon

For most young people, Christmas is a time to relax and enjoy free time with friends, but for the thousands of young people who act as carers, it can be a difficult time.

Census figures for 2016 showed there were 3,800 carers in the Republic of Ireland under the age of 15.

According to Family Carers Ireland, the number of young people who look after family members is much higher as some may not self-identify as a carer.

The organisation has said young carers need more State support than they are given, particularly during school holidays and Christmas.

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Young carer Shauna Tighe, from Tallaght, Dublin, was three when her brother Daniel was born with the rare genetic condition called Sotos syndrome.

It is a severe intellectual disability that means Daniel experiences epilepsy and sensory processing difficulties.

Shauna, now 15, wakes about 6am to help Daniel get ready for school, and comes home from school to play with, feed and comfort him.

Shauna is one of thousands of children caring for siblings and relatives in the home and without her support, her mother Sinead Tighe said caring for Daniel would be much harder.

Shauna said because Daniel was her only sibling, they shared "an unbreakable bond".

"Daniel is non-verbal, he's incontinent and he is prone to having very bad seizure. Despite that, he is a very happy, smiley boy and he loves his sister," her mother added.

Ms Tighe said Christmas could be a difficult time because there was the added pressure of seeing families on social media.

"I have to do my Leaving Cert next year, so it can be tough when I have a hard day at school and then have to come home as it can be quite tiring," said Shauna.

"Daniel's condition means he can wake up a lot during the night.

"Daniel is becoming a teenager so his behaviour can be quite challenging sometimes and he can wear us all out.

"At the end of the day, though, he's my brother and I love him and would do anything for him."

Shauna said young carers needed more leeway with homework and study, especially in exam years.

"It would be great if there was more counselling for young carers as it can be quite lonely and isolating at times.

"Your friends might not understand why you can't come out to see them or what it is like to have a brother who is disabled," she said.

"To Daniel, Christmas is just another day for him. I don't really like social media at this time of year because it can be hard looking at other families who seem like they have no problems, but we make the best of it and make sure it's a nice time for Daniel."

Aine Grant, from Co Donegal, cares for her mother Nuala (58), who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

The 19-year-old was awarded overall Young Carer of the Year earlier this year after she was nominated by her mother's friend.

Aine first became a carer for her mother when she was in her Leaving Certificate year at school.

When she finished school, she decided to take up a full-time caring role.

And her close relationship with her mother meant she didn't give it a second thought.

She said she was fortunate to have great support from her father Liam and older sister Niamh, who works in Letterkenny, while her other sister works as a primary school teacher in London.

"I take my mam to appointments, give her medication, get her up in the morning and get her washed and fed - it is not something I was ever told or trained to do - I just get on with it and I enjoy it," she said.

Aine said the award "gives you a wee boost to keep going and let's you think that maybe you are doing a good job".

And she agrees with Shauna that there is a lack of outside support and respite for young carers - particularly at Christmas time.

Irish Independent

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