Skip to content
  • • Nearly half of children in care have a mental health disorder
  • • 4.2 million children in the UK are living in poverty
  • • Nearly half of children in care have a mental health disorder
  • • 1.4 million children & young people have a probable mental health disorder
  • • 1 in 5 babies aren’t receiving their entitled health visiting check at one year old
Barnardo's Logo

“I couldn’t get a part time job when I was in school because I was caring for my sister. Caring was my job, but I didn’t get paid for it.”

Background

Rebecca (Becca) is a young adult carer from Liverpool. She cares for her older sister who has serious medical conditions and has been supported by Barnardo’s since 2022, when she was 17.

“I first came in contact with Barnardo’s through my college. I spoke with my college tutor about how I helped look after my sister, and to me, it was just casual conversation. But she picked up that I was doing more than a sister should and that I was actually a carer for her. So, I got in contact with Barnardo’s and I’ve been supported by the Young Adult Carers service ever since.”

Young person sitting on wall with phone; we can't see their face.

Caring responsibilities

“I’ve been caring for my sister since I was about 16. She’s had health issues since she was around seven, so it’s been ongoing for a long time.”

“Back then, my mum was a midwife, so she was more able to help my sister. But after the [Covid-19] pandemic, my mum just couldn’t keep going with being a midwife. So, she quit her job and went into a full-time job in admin. That meant she was home a lot less and she was available a lot less. I was in college at that time – so I’d come home early when I didn’t have lessons in the afternoon to help look after my sister.”

“My sister’s moved out now, but I still go up to her house twice a week and she comes down to us twice a week. I help with her washing up because she can’t grip onto things, and I help her with her washing and things like that. I support her with anything she needs.”

“It’s a very weird feeling at the minute because she’s moved out, but I’m still helping her.”

Impact on Becca’s mental health

Caring for her sister has sometimes been a challenge for Becca – especially during the Covid-19 pandemic when feelings of anxiety and worry were heightened…

“One of the problems my sister has is a lung condition called Bronchiectasis. That meant the pandemic was really scary for us. We had every precaution in place because if she caught it [Covid], which she eventually did in 2021, she ended up in hospital because she couldn’t breathe. So, it was a very scary thing to be constantly vigilant.”

“I changed schools after year 11 and I went to a college instead of staying on at my sixth form. So, I was seeing a whole load of new people. The college was bigger than my school was, and there were all sorts of changes happening in my life. I had to travel, so I was always mingling with loads of different people which meant I always had to be vigilant that I was wearing my mask and sanitising my hands.”

“If I got sick – even if I got a cold – I couldn’t go near my sister. It was weird to have to think about her health in front of mine.”

Support from Barnardo’s

Since being in touch with Barnardo’s, Becca has been supported by her Project Worker, Adele. She also attends a Young Adult Carers (YAC) group where she can meet with other young people in similar situations to her.

“With the YAC group service, it’s very nice because we meet up once a month and it gives me a chance to go and see people who are in the same situation as me.”

“That isn’t something I’d ever really experienced before because my friends all had pretty normal lives and they didn’t have someone that they were caring for… So, it’s really nice to have other people be able to relate to the issues I’m having.”

“I’ve also had help from Adele, my worker, who does all sorts of things to help me. She supported me when I was applying for carers allowance, which I’ve now got. And it’s great because I can help support my sister better now I have that allowance. And just knowing I’ve got someone I can talk to when it gets difficult is a massive help.”

“When I first started on my journey with Barnardo’s, I felt very much like, ‘oh, but what if I’m not actually a young carer? What if I’m lying about this?’ It was very weird because I have anxiety, so that really heightened those feelings.”

“Barnardo’s gave me the validation that, yes, this is a real caring role – I am a carer – and I do need this support.”

Changes needed in government

“Because I was still in full-time education, I didn’t get much support outside of Barnardo’s because my mum worked and so neither of us qualified for carers allowance at that point.”

“Once I left education, I applied and I’ve been able to claim it. But at one point, there was no support from the government because my mum’s salary was too high to claim carers allowance.”

“It’s quite ridiculous because looking after someone is a full-time job in itself. My mum would’ve had to drop down to a lower paid job if she wanted to claim carers allowance.”

“We were struggling financially, but my mum just couldn’t get any extra support which to me never really made sense because she was looking after my sister every minute she wasn’t in work.”

“Even in the middle of the night, my sister would wake up and text her and say, ‘I need you. Can you come upstairs? I can’t breathe,’ or, ‘I’m in pain.’

“I just felt like, ‘why isn’t she getting paid for that when it’s basically her second job?’ And it was literally just because she was making too much at her main job that kept food on the table.”

“I think the government need to rethink the criteria for claiming carers allowance.”

“We also need to bring more awareness to what it means to be a carer – because I didn’t even realise I was a carer myself until I told my tutor at college about what I was doing for my sister.”

“I think it’s especially important to learn about in schools. When I got home from college I would look after my sister and by that point, I was exhausted. I just wanted to wind down, not start my homework, but no one at my school or college understood that.”

“It’s wrong that I couldn’t claim carers allowance because that was my job. I couldn’t get a part time job when I was in school because I’d come home and I’d look after my sister. I’d cook dinner because we’d be waiting for our parents to get home. Obviously, my sister couldn’t help me, so it was me in the kitchen making dinner for everyone. And that was my part time job in school. But I didn’t get paid for it. And I couldn’t claim for it because I was in education. That just seems so messed up to me.”

Speaking at the 2023 political party conferences

In October 2023, Becca, along with a group of other young people supported by Barnardo’s, attended the Labour and Conservative party conferences to speak with decision-makers and share her experiences.

“It was really nice to have the five children’s charities [speaking of the children’s charities coalition] come together and I think people found that really powerful. Especially at the end, people were coming up to us and saying that what we said is going to stick with them.”

“At the round table, it was really nice to just be heard about the issues people like us are facing… Like the cost-of-living crisis, for example.”

“I got to talk about how my family have to choose sometimes whether to put the heating on. Sometimes we’ll only be able to put the heating on for an hour because it costs so much. We’ve bought blankets and hoodies because that’s just cheaper than putting the heating on. Why do we have to choose between heating and living?”

“There were some MPs at the roundtable. They were listening and they were actually engaging with what we were saying, which was really nice.”