Regardless of the social or economic status, race, creed, color, religion, ethnic or traditional backgrounds, families can be confronted with a huge upset in the customary dynamics of their family structure.
This can happen when accidents, physical or mental illness, disabilities, change or loss of employment, language barriers, addictions, or absence/death of a parent occurs. This places a severe strain on the family unit.
When this occurs adults may not be able to fulfill some or many of their core traditional roles. A younger family member(s) may be required to take on those tasks on a regular basis, thus becoming a youth caregiver.
Many of these adolescents are unprepared nor have the skills to deal with providing essential care, and the stress it brings, which is often difficult even for adults.
The protection of family privacy and the fear that this disclosure
will bring negative social judgments is a key factor in remaining silent, even to the exclusion of medical providers and educators.
As a result the adolescent is potentially at risk of not being able to develop along with their peers, many isolate socially (two of three are subject to bullying), and their mental health, education and stability can be impacted from partial to severe. The severity is directly connected to the amount of support, understanding and recognition that they receive.
Canadian studies are consistent in school surveys in that 12 to 19 per cent of students identified themselves as caregivers, the most being between the ages of 13 and 15 years old, usually divided equally girls/boys. These numbers match surveys done at schools in the Cowichan Valley.
As a result a group of human service professionals, who are/were working in those fields in a career capacity, has put in place a Comox Valley Youth as Caregivers Program, which is one of six such programs in Canada. It was adopted and now administered by the Community Justice Centre.
The main goal is to provide peer support in a safe setting. Also, youth being caregivers, assume that because of their age, don’t have ready access to agencies, professionals, and information in order to assist them through their caregiving challenges. When requested, we can provide a gateway to these service providers.
This program also encourages the parents to become aware of our goals and services. The total aim is to have the program be of benefit to the entire family.
For a detailed look at the program, visit http://comoxvalleyyouthascaregivers.org.
— Community Justice Centre