Service offering young carers a chance of respite from vital role

Young carers play a vital role in supporting their loved ones, but their value can often be forgotten.

Ange Barre and Jessica Barre, aged 9, who is a young carer for her mom
Ange Barre and Jessica Barre, aged 9, who is a young carer for her mom

Carers Week starts today, aiming to highlight the value and importance of young people under the age of 18 who help look after someone in their family who is ill, disabled, or has a physical or mental health condition.

Jessica Barre is one of those young carers here in Shropshire who, at the tender age of nine looks after her mother Ange, who has severe epilepsy.

Her role is vital to the family, who live in Shrewsbury, as she helps her mum, who can have up to 30 seizures a day, or when she's tired from medication or just whenever she needs a helping hand.

Ange Barre and Jessica Barre, aged 9, who is a young carer for her mom

The relationship between the two is one that shows the affection between them, and Jessica has had to mature quickly in order to look after her mum, with the help of her dad, Steve, bringing their family closer together.

Ange, 38, and Jessica get support from Shropshire Young Carer Service, provided by Crossroads Together and funded by Shropshire Council, which provides young carers with time away from caring responsibilities; organises days out and provides a friendly face to talk to.

Shropshire Young Carer Service in-person meetings are beginning again this month and for people like Jessica, they offer a day of respite with others on her wavelength where she can feel relaxed. It also offers a break for Ange who says she can sometimes feel guilty when Jessica cares for her.

Zoom

"I feel comforted at the meetings," Jessica said.

"We have been meeting on Zoom over lockdown. The bushcraft days are fun, I come back smelling of smoke and we toast marshmallows."

Ange said it is so important for people to realise that young people are carers too, and so they need support and guidance, which Shropshire Young Carer Service offers.

"People don't know much about it even through one in a hundred people have epilepsy, not enough people are educated about what it really is," she said.

Ange Barre and Jessica Barre, aged 9, who is a young carer for her mom

"Jessica cares for me by being so patient and caring – she might have to wait for me to feel better after a seizure, or call someone if she needs help, or wait for me to come around. She might also have to help me take medicine and just support me in any way.

"I set up my own charity, Shropshire Epilepsy Support, to help other people after my own journey, as a child then a teenager and now as an adult having problems with things like employment and then starting a family. I realised there wasn't anything of the sort in Shropshire.

"The problem is that people don't see young people as being able to care. That's one of the main stigmas and why carers Jess' age don't get support.

"If we go to Alton Towers, I can get a free carers ticket, and this would be for Jess but the ticket is for those over the age of 16. People just don't see young people as carers and it's so important. Being a child, things change all the time, it becomes a part of life."

Ange has three forms of epilepsy which means her symptoms can vary from getting dizzy, having absence seizures where she forgets things and going totally unconscious.

Jessica said she likes looking after her mum, and when Ange doesn't need her help she loves reading, especially Harry Potter, seeing her friends and going to school.

Ange Barre and Jessica Barre, aged 9, who is a young carer for her mom

Shropshire Young Carer Servicee helps Jessica relax and offers her support when she needs it. Throughout lockdown, the organisation kept in touch with families and hosted weekly Zoom sessions for the carers doing arts and crafts.

Now they are able to meet in person again, Ange said it is a chance for Jessica to go and have some fun with other people in similar situations.

"Epilepsy is still surrounded by myths and stigmas but it doesn't just affect the person with the condition, but also their families and those around them," Ange said.

"I could be absolutely fine, then all of a sudden I am a different person.

"But it's not a 24/7 thing, Jess still gets to see her friends and go to school and the Shropshire Young Carer Service helps a lot in terms of giving her some respite.

"Caring can be an emotional toll not getting all the freedoms other children have, and she has had to grow up fast and learn from a young age how she can help.

Ange Barre and Jessica Barre, aged 9, who is a young carer for her mom

"So she can just escape and do what other young kids do. As a parent, I also feel extremely safe for her to go to the meetings. Because I can't drive, they pay for a taxi so Jess can go safely by herself, it's a bit of independence.

"It helps me as well as I don't feel guilty that she is looking after me. Jess has lots of fun at the meetings and it means she doesn't have to think about things for a little bit."

Simon Jones, young carers lead at Shropshire Young Carer Service, said the theme of Carers Week 2021 is ‘Make Caring Visible and Valued’, something they hope to achieve through the service.

He said: "The children's caring really increased during the pandemic because of being at home all the time. When they were at school they worry about the person they care for at home, but then when they are at home all the time, it can feel like their caring is increased.

"Our normal procedure pre-Covid would be to contact families and organise group activities throughout the year for young carers. If they need support or one-to-one chats we help them out – but Covid put a stop to all our group activities.

"We were still able to support them over lockdown with Zoom sessions but thankfully the in-person meetings are starting up again this month."

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