Resources and Support for Young Caregivers
Caring for a family member or loved one, although rewarding, can also be an incredibly challenging role. Adults who find themselves in this position often struggle to balance their caregiving duties with life’s other demands. For younger caregivers, it can be even more challenging. While many people think of caregivers as older adults, data from Statistics Canada shows that roughly 1.25 million caregivers are 15 to 24 years old. And experts say that this number is actually higher as this data doesn’t include Northern Canada or caregivers under the age of 15.
Young carers across the country are providing support to loved ones living with health problems related to aging, a physical or mental illness, disability or substance misuse. In fact, the number of young carers has been steadily increasing as our population ages and more families live in multigenerational homes. Although young caregivers share many of the same experiences as older caregivers, they often lack the support and resources they need to avoid significant long-term consequences. Here’s more information on this underserved and unrecognized population and some of the supports that are available.
What Care Do They Provide?
Young caregivers in Ontario spend an average of 14-27 hours a week—or the equivalent of a part-time job—helping their loved ones in many ways. This may include the activities of daily living like grooming, dressing and feeding and more complex tasks such as organizing appointments, administering medications, financial planning or caring for younger siblings. Young carers also provide significant social and emotional support to their family.
How Does This Role Impact Young Caregivers?
It can be particularly difficult for young caregivers because they are not always recognized by doctors or other health professionals and they may not qualify for financial benefits or accommodations at work or school. Surprisingly, many young carers don’t even realize that they are in fact caregivers as their role has been normalized as a part of their family duty or responsibilities.
During such an important stage of development, caregiving can interfere with a young person’s physical and mental health, education, career and life plans. Research shows that when compared to peers without caregiving responsibilities, young carers are at a greater risk of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, loneliness, self-harm and even suicidal ideation.
What Resources and Supports Are Available?
Access to support including counselling, respite care and peer support groups can significantly improve a young carer’s long-term health, social success and career goals. There are organizations and resources available that were specifically created for youth and young adult carers. More general mental health support services for children, youth and adults can also be very helpful. Here are some of the resources that are available:
- The Ontario Caregiver Organization’s Young Caregivers Connect: Provides information, resources and support for young caregivers on topics like self-care, managing relationships and balancing responsibilities. This provincial service also connects caregivers to peer support groups (1:1 and group options), online forums, a 24/7 online helpline, phone support at 1-833-416-2273 (CARE) and a live chat.
- Young Carers Program: Offers social, recreational, educational and skill development opportunities for young carers in the Toronto area. This includes social, sports and group activities, summer camps, homework assistance, cooking, self-care, medical education and more. It also connects young carers to other youth living through similar experiences and challenges.
- Young Caregivers Association: Free supportive programs, counselling and peer support groups for young caregivers and their families through the Powerhouse Program. The association’s Knowledge Centre also provides tools and resources to encourage the well-being of young carers across the country.
- 2-1-1: Call or text 2-1-1 within Ontario for a referral to the right government or community-based program or service.
- VHA’s Guide to Home Care Services: Resource to help caregivers navigate the home care system in Ontario. Includes information to better understand funding requirements and how to access respite support.
- 9-8-8: Call or text 9-8-8 across Canada for immediate mental health crisis and suicide prevention intervention.
- Good2Talk: 24/7 mental health support services for high school students in Ontario. Call 1-866-925-5454 or text GOOD2TALKON to 686868.
- Kids Help Phone: Online, telephone or text-based counselling and referrals to community support services for youth across the country. Text CONNECT to 686868 or call 1-800-668-6868 24 hours a day.
- Health and Disease Organizations: Young caregivers may also find resources and support through disease-specific organizations—both nationwide or regional chapters. For example, the Alzheimer Society Southwest Partners, the Canadian Cancer Society or the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Although caregiving at a young age can be extremely challenging, there are lifelong benefits that can come out of this role. Young carers are known to be patient, creative and resilient, capable and responsible and in many cases better equipped to handle future challenges. They just need the right support and resources to realize these positive outcomes.
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