“I always get the same feeling when school finishes - that I don’t want to go home, but I have to.
“I’m very aware my life is quite a lot different from my friends - I have a harder life. It makes me feel upset that someone is having a better life than me. My friends get to go out all the time and see everyone - and I stay in. It makes me angry.
“I’m the one that has to cope with everything. I have to look after my little sister and brothers and do the cooking and washing and that. I’ve had to get used to it because I know mum isn’t going to change.”
These are the heartbreaking words of a young carer from Leeds - 13-year-old Scarlett*, whose mum has suffered with bipolar disorder since before she was born.
Most teenagers have a tough time growing up but for Scarlett, life has been exceptionally hard as copes with her mum’s illness, looks after three siblings and manages daily housework around school. She is just one of an estimated 4,000 young carers in Leeds who are losing their childhoods because of demanding responsibilities at home.
Today the Yorkshire Evening Post is throwing its weight behind a campaign by Leeds Community Foundation (LCF) to raise £4,000 over the next eight weeks allow over 200 young carers to experience a trip away.
For Scarlett, children’s charity Barnardo’s Willow Young Carers - one of the projects set to benefit from the fundraising campaign - has proved a vital help, providing one-to-one support as well as days out.
She said: “Honestly? If it wasn’t for Barnardo’s I don’t think I would be here now. I really don’t. My life was terrible - until I realised it wasn’t just me, that there were others in this situation, and I would get help.”
Scarlett can’t remember a time when she wasn’t caring for her family. As well as daily chores - getting her sister up for school, cooking the tea, doing the washing - she also finds herself providing practical and emotional support for her mum and siblings. She said: “Mum’s always had bipolar - all through my life.
“I stay up with her if she’s manic because she would try to leave the house and never come back. But she’s mostly depressed. When she’s depressed I have to try and get her out of bed, make sure she gets downstairs before I go to school.”
Because of her responsibilities, Scarlett says she finds it hard to relate to people her age.
“I feel more grown up - my friends don’t understand me. It’s hard to trust people because they’re quick to judge - to gossip and tell everyone. I get bullied. People say ‘haha your mum’s a psycho’’. It hurts.”
Scarlett says she hopes to one day be an actress and dreams of studying drama at college - but those thoughts are also filled with worry for her family. She said: “But at the end of the day we have to leave. We can’t stay in the house forever. It’s going to be hard to leave mum and not know what’s going to happen to her.”
Sylvia Shatwell, service manager at Willow Young Carers, said trips and activities can help young carers have a break from worries and have fun with others in a similar position. She said: “It’s so important for these children to meet other young people who really understand what they’re experiencing. We’re a great service and can do a huge amount to support young carers, but there’s nothing as powerful as peer support. It’s wonderful to see young people develop in confidence before our eyes as they make friends.”
LCF’s campaign will help pay for a week’s holiday, a weekend away or a day trip for 200 young carers in the city. Chief executive Sally-Anne Greenfield said: “As a city, it’s our responsibility to help young people have the best start in life and reach their full potential. It’s really important for children who have caring responsibilities to take a break and have the chance to play, socialise, and spend time with other children for a day, a weekend or a week, without their caring responsibilities overwhelming them. We hope people will get behind this campaign to not only give children good memories, but play a part in helping young carers to be healthy and have fun.”
*Names have been changed.
HELP CARERS STAY YOUNG
The race is now on to raise £4,000 to give young carers in Leeds a chance to be young.
Donations can been submitted by PayPal, credit or debit card via the crowdfunding site http://igg.me/at/Leedscf.
Cheques can also be made payable to Leeds Community Foundation and sent to LCF Carers, Leeds Community Foundation, 51a St Pauls Street, Leeds, LS1 2ET.
As a thank you to everyone who supports the campaign, LCF will offer rewards in the form of stamps, photo books and postcards which feature the winning entries from their recent photography competition, ‘My Leeds in Focus’.
Deadline for donations is 5pm on Tuesday 10 November.