10 Sep 2020
Crossroads NI, partly funded through the Coronavirus Community Fund, provides respite care for Carers, young and old. One of their main projects is working with Young Carers. Crossroads NI works to support, serve and strengthen young carers by providing a network of social support, meeting others in similar situations, through outings etc. They also run workshops to support young people with different skills supporting them to juggle their career responsibilities along with school work, exams etc.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, 22 year old Emma Hughes from East Belfast landed her perfect job, as a pre-school care assistant, looking after young children in a nursery four days a week. Young as she is, this is not Emma’s first caring role-she is one of thousands of young people across Northern Ireland, caring for an immediate family member at least 10 hours a week. Young Carer – a child or young person under the age of 23, whose life is affected by providing significant care, assistance or support at home to a family member with an illness, mental health problem, drug/ alcohol addiction or disability
Emma explains, “Dad had taken unwell from a very young age, the same year I was born, so as far as I can remember, he’s had health issues. When I was at school and my Mum was his full time carer, but it was just normal for me. I helped my Mum and Dad out, but it didn’t stop me being able to do anything. When I was eight, a case worker introduced me to Crossroads NI a support charity for young carers like me and I’m still going-I’m probably the longest attending young carer in the whole place.”
As Emma got older, her father Geordie’s health deteriorated and he developed a range of issues, sometimes needing to be hospitalised. “It got tougher for me when I was growing up as I knew how serious even an infection might be for my Dad. I felt different from my friends in that way-they just didn’t understand-but at Crossroads NI everyone was caring for someone in their family and I had friends and support workers to talk to who knew where I was coming from.”
A self-confessed homebird, Emma who’s the youngest of 5, found her caring skill put to the test when lockdown was announced in March. “Like everyone else, I suddenly went from going to work and seeing friends to being in the house with my Mum and Dad 24/7. We’re a really close family and get on well, but it was very strange.
“I’d been caring for my Dad more since October last year as my older brother (25) was diagnosed with cancer and my Mum was spending time with him at the hospital. With my Dad and brother both shielding, Mum and I would drop shopping to my brother, We were even social distancing in the house to protect my Dad and brother!”
Lockdown also meant that Emma couldn’t access her support network at Crossroads NI in the usual way, something she really missed. The charity maintained its all-important contact with young carers by running Zoom nights and making regular phone calls to them, however funding of £3,500 from the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland’s Coronavirus Community Fund allowed them to offer counselling sessions to young carers. Alison Breadon from the charity explains; “Caring is challenging at the best of times, but the sense of isolation and anxiety felt by young carers from the start of lockdown was heart breaking.
“We were delighted to be able to offer professional counselling to those young people who were struggling. It’s been an extremely overwhelming time and on top of that they were missing out on social interaction and support through meeting their support workers and the friends they’ve made at Crossroads NI, who just understand what they’re going through. The funding was delivered so quickly and we know it really made a difference in helping our young carers.”
Síofra Healy, Director of Philanthropy at the Community Foundation said, “When lockdown began to seem inevitable, we worked closely with our funding partners and mobilised our grant making services to make emergency support available, ensuring that those who needed help were able to get it quickly. As we move out of the period of most immediate need, we’re focusing on the future, helping organisations to focus and deliver on action orientated, community led responses.
“Between mid-March and the end of August, our Coronavirus Community Fund and New Needs Fund awarded nearly £3 million to 618 organisations across Northern Ireland and we continue to review opportunities to deliver positive impacts in those communities where it’s most needed”
Emma said, “If I didn’t have Crossroads NI, I wouldn’t have looked for help. The counselling was great, it really helped and I feel like they’re always there and always very supportive.”
As lockdown eased and Emma knew her Dad was safe she was keen to return to work and start living a more normal way of life. As for the future, she says, “I’m in the job I’ve always wanted and I take each day as it comes. You never really know how things are going to go-especially as Dad has so many problems, he could be fine one day and the next he’s in hospital so you have to deal with what’s going on at a particular time and appreciate the happy moments and the memories you make.”