Young carers given helping hand by partnership

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A LIFELINE to selfless young carers looking after sick or disabled loved ones is to double the number of children it helps.

Barnardo’s Willow service, based in Chapeltown, Leeds, now aims to provide practical and emotional support to 500 youngsters after it was recommissioned by Leeds City Council.

Among those celebrating the news yesterday was six-year-old Jack Mentlak, who lives with and cares for his grandma Jackie, an arthritis sufferer who has recently battled cancer and survived a number of strokes.

Mrs Mentlak, 60, said: “It’s a marvellous place. For children whose parents are ill, it’s very stressful for them and they have explained it all to him without him getting upset.

“It’s just amazing and I’m really thankful for what they do here.”

Since its opening in 1994 the service, a partnership between Barnardos and Leeds City Council, has worked with hundreds of five to 18-year-old young carers across Leeds, where it is estimated there are up to 4,000 young people supporting and caring for family members who might be ill, disabled or have a substance misuse problem.

Many will take on tasks such as organising medication and providing personal care, and carrying a level of responsibility inappropriate for their age.

Manager Sylvia Shatwell said: “Willow has supported hundreds of young people caring for their relatives over the years and hopefully made a positive difference to their lives.

“We aim to build on what we have achieved so far but reach more young carers and respond better and more effectively to their needs as we step into the future. We work with young people to find ways of reducing the negative impact of caring. One of the most powerful ways of doing this is by getting them together with other young people in similar situations.

“Peer support can help carers realise that they’re not alone. We support young people in dealing with some serious and distressing issues, but we also look for opportunities to have fun.”