Hard Christmas for children in caring role

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SOME of Yorkshire’s young 
carers could go without Christmas presents tomorrow while others may have to wrap their own gifts as their parents are too ill or 
disabled to do so.

While many children who look after a loved one are looking forward to a happy Christmas – like Jack Mentlak, six, pictured, who looks after grandma Jackie, in Wortley, Leeds – for some it can be the toughest day of the year.

Health and money worries coupled with reduced support services over the holidays can mean many families find it an especially difficult time, charities say.

“Young carers are children first and they want a magical Christmas, but if the parent or person they care for is poorly, it doesn’t always live up to expectations,” said Jane Whaley, of Barnardo’s Doncaster young carers service.

“In the current economic climate we see a lot of families who are really struggling for basic things, like heating and food, and how they manage to get extra things for Christmas I don’t know.

“We do have some families who have wonderful Christmases and presents but they have saved for them all year.

“For others it can be very difficult – there are some who don’t have very much and there are some who have nothing.”

One in five young carers have gone without presents before and over a quarter have wrapped their own gifts to put under the tree, according to a recent survey.

Nearly a third will be cooking Christmas dinner and a fifth said they found the day “tougher” or “sadder” than the rest of the year.

Daniel Phelps, of Carers Trust, said: “While Christmas is supposed to be one of the happiest and magical times for children, for some young carers, Christmas day could be more difficult and sadder than the rest of the year.

“For some of these children who look after a family member with an illness, disability or addiction to drugs or alcohol, caring responsibilities will not stop.

“With reduced support services at this time of year and families under greater financial stress, the Christmas period can be a really tough and isolating time.”

The festive period can be particularly difficult for young carers helping to look after a brother or sister with autism, according to Helen Prince, of Harrogate-based Carers Resource.

“Families with autistic children struggle a lot at Christmas. There is so much disruption to routine,” she said.

“They can become hugely anxious about being on Santa’s good list or about what is in the presents. They often don’t like surprises and can be over stimulated by all the tinsel and lights.

“Families have to make a lot of adjustments or play down Christmas so that their autistic children can cope, but this inevitably affects the siblings.”

It can also be a tough time for young carers whose parents have mental health problems such as depression, she added.

“They want to have a happy Christmas and their parent may not be able even to appear happy on Christmas Day,” she said.

“We have also worked in the past with young carers whose parents have problems with alcohol and these children find Christmas stressful because it is socially acceptable to drink quite a lot over the festive season.”

The support service has helped to give some festive cheer to young carers by organising parties and giving donated presents and food hampers to their families.

“Hopefully they should have a better Christmas than they would otherwise have done,” she said.

Barnardo’s Doncaster service also organises some festive fun each year, such as a trip to the pantomime last week.

Such activities help to give young carers a break from their responsibilities – and this Christmas the Yorkshire Post is raising money for the region’s young carers’ services to help fund them.

To donate to the Give Young Carers a Break appeal, visit www.justgiving.com/ypyoungcarers; or send a cheque, payable to LCF Young Carers, to: YP Young Carers Appeal, c/o Leeds Community Foundation, 51a St Paul’s Street, Leeds, LS1 2TE.