A GROUP for young carers in north Bucks has been a victim of its own success.
Buckingham & Winslow Young Carers was set up in 2005 with a membership of two.
Now the group, known as YC2, has proved so successful it’s reached its capacity of 30 members, is unable to take any more referrals and needs more volunteers to staff it.
YC2 founder and leader, Margo Parfitt, said: “After years of trying to get people to admit there’s such a thing as a young carer, in the last 18 months we’ve suddenly been discovered.
“The past six months have been manic. We’ve had seven referrals in the last six months.”
The club has a regular night for juniors, aged seven to 12, once a month.
And this summer it also started a group for seniors, aged 13 to 18, who meet twice a month.
Young carers are children who take on a significant caring role in the family, beyond their years.
Some have responsibility for looking after disabled siblings. In other cases, it’s a parent who is the person being cared for.
Margo said: “We have several families where there’s a parent with alcohol or substance abuse. If the other parent is working really hard, it means the children have to take on a lot of the day-to-day running and looking after siblings.
“The child grows up sorting things out.
“We have several parents, mothers usually, with severe mental health problems, such as severe depression. That family is vulnerable.”
Many vulnerable families are single parents.
Other examples include a nine-year-old who cares for an older sibling with special needs, because their mother is busy caring for a severely injured husband.
“Often it’s the emotional support, the emotional caring,” said Margo.
“I’ve got one case now where one parent has a terminal illness and the other parent will need a lot of emotional support. It’s a lovely thing for a child to be able to do, but it must leave them worried and anxious as well.”
But Margo stressed: “In the main, our young carers are generally well cared for. Their parents love them and try to do their best, but are fearful of what would happen if authority found out. They see themselves as failing.”
“There’s still a very strong attitude in families not to let other people know – the fear that social services will rush in and take the children into care.
“Often a child needs to be told they’re a young carer.”
Young carers often find it hard to make friends, for example if they have an autistic sibling and are unable to bring friends home, because the sibling is so disruptive.
“Children want to be exactly like their peer groups and not stick out,” said Margo. “Bullying does go on.”
YC2 gives them a place where they don’t have to pretend.
“They say they get freedom there,” said Margo. “They can laugh, hang out and be normal.
“They know all the others are in the same position.
“No-one’s going to find out anything. They’ve got nothing to hide there at all.
“It must be a stress on them all the time, not to let anything slip.”
The group runs organised activities for the children and can also offer one-to-one support.
Young carers may be referred to the group by health visitors, social services or through friends.
And Margo said teachers are particularly well placed to spot young carers.
Affiliated to Action 4 Youth, a Bucks charity that provides training and support to youth groups, YC2 is run entirely by volunteers.
Margo works 20 to 30 hours a week on it, and there are an additional 15 volunteer drivers and sub-club leaders.
Former Bucks County Council youth worker Jim Whatmore has continued to give his time to the group as a volunteer.
YC2 has received £7,000 a year from BCC for the last three years, but funding runs out in January.
The money has helped fund group activities, including a PGL weekend for youngsters in Wiltshire in July.
“We’re the only resource for young carers in north Bucks,” said Margo.
“Carers Bucks refer all the local young carers to us.”
And what will happen if the referrals keep coming?
“I don’t know,” said Margo. “It would be easy to say I want to expand, but it would be a problem. You can’t envisage 50 children. You wouldn’t be able to keep an eye on all of them.
“I don’t know what we’ll do. I never envisaged it getting this big.”
As well as hoping funding will be forthcoming for the club for next year, Margo is keen to recruit more volunteers to help.
Volunteer drivers are required, to collect and deliver children to the club, on a regular or occasional basis.
YC2 pays volunteer drivers 40p per mile mileage allowance, and organises CRB checking and safeguarding training.
She would also like to recruit volunteers who would be willing to go along on an occasional basis and lead sessions in a specific craft or sport, or people who could offer one-off sessions in subjects such as confidence training.
Visitors on this basis would not be left alone with the children and so would not require CRB clearance. She would also love to find experts in anything from cookery to cheerleading to tai chi, who would be prepared to lead sessions with the children.
To find out more, call Margo on 01280 817420 or 07984 045788 for an informal chat.