Doing homework, chilling with friends and heading out in the evening are part of typical teenage life, but for young carers these can be an impossible dream.
Terry Macrowan, founder of Great Yarmouth and Gorleston Young Carers knows this only too well as her project offers peer support and one-to-one mentoring for children as young as five up to late teens.
And one thing that stands out is that these resilient youngsters don’t even see themselves as carers because it’s normal life for them.
Taylor Mountain came to GYGYC when she was 15 and looking after her mum who had Huntington’s Disease, a complex illness that causes damage to the brain’s nerve cells, affecting movement, cognition and mental health.
Now 17, Tayla offers support to children who are going through what she did at GYGYC.
“When I talk to the children, I think to myself they must be having such a hard time at home. When I was a carer I had no idea other people were going through the same thing.
"It’s so nice to help them make clay models, have fun with them and let them be kids,” says Taylor, whose mum died last year.
“Looking after a parent takes a toll on you. It’s emotionally draining and I got to the point where I was burned out and couldn’t do it anymore.
"There would be times when I’d be up until the early hours trying to help Mum the day before an exam.
“My sister and other family members were around, but Huntington’s affected Mum’s personality and there were really long periods of time when she only wanted me to help. One of the main things I felt was isolation.
“Sometimes if I’d been in the house for days, I had to say to her: ‘Look, I need to get out, I need a break, let someone else help you.’ When you do go out there’s always that guilty feeling that I should be back home helping.”
Although Taylor felt like she was the only one of her friends feeling that way, Terry has supported many young carers whose everyday life involves helping their parents get washed and dressed, cooking and running the family home.
And when a teacher who noticed Taylor was struggling suggested she contact GYGYC, Terry was there to help.
“Tayla could talk to me about her feelings and we looked at ways we could make things better.
"We worked to get some adult support, but that’s not an easy move because you have to convince everyone it’s the right thing,” says Terry, who’s been running Great Yarmouth and Gorleston Young Carers for more than ten years.
Now Taylor is flourishing and has ambitions for the future.
“I did love helping my mum, so I want to be a paramedic,” she says.
“I’m studying biology, maths and medical science at college and after starting my course I’ve found so many new interests.”
The move from school to college is a complicated one for young carers, but funding raised through The Health Lottery means Terry can run a project to support them at the difficult time.
“It’s about making sure they do go to college and supporting them with that transition by setting up peer support groups,” says Terry.
“We worked with the local college and identified the young carers who were going there and then we set up a lunch with the support workers so they weren’t going in cold and could find each other in the room.
“Some of the young people starting college have been carers for years, but have never been identified so have never had any support.
Young carers have an extra tough life. They’ll walk in the room and say to other people: ‘I didn’t know you would be here’ because they don’t tend to share what’s going on at home with their mates.
“We’re currently supporting more than 200 children, with 45 on the waiting list, but if it wasn’t for people like you buying tickets for The Health Lottery then projects like this wouldn’t exist, so thank you very much for your generosity.”
Great Yarmouth and Gorleston Young Carers Factfile
Support for young people age five to 21 who are caring for parents or another family member
Peer support and one-to-one mentoring
Based in Norfolk
Grant of £31,538 funded a project to help carers transition from school to college