The Young Carers Project: Meeting the needs of young carers in Kitchener-Waterloo region

Promising Practice

In brief

In Ontario, 17% of caregivers are between 15 and 24 years old. In 2012, there were over 1.9 million young carers across Canada. These children and youth experience a change in their family role because a family member has an exceptional need or there is a unique family situation. This need can include a physical illness or disability, or concerns related to mental health, substance use, or addictions, as well as barriers related to language and culture. 

In this issue of Promising Practices, EENet's Alexandra Harrison looks at The Young Carers Project, a community collaborative in Kitchener that is helping young carers access the resources they need.

Promising Practices profiles innovative practices and initiatives from around Ontario.

Read about The Young Carers Project below or download the PDF.

The Young Carers Project 

The Young Carers Project (YCP) is a local community collaborative that is working to help young carers access the resources they need. The collaborative consists of representatives from community-based organizations across the Kitchener-Waterloo Region, as well as a number of former young carers. 

The aim of the project is to raise awareness of the existence young carers and their needs and, through this work, to influence the creation of policies, services, and supports that meet the needs of young carers, locally, provincially, and nationally. 

About the program

The Young Carers Project developed several evidence-based resources for young carers and those who support young carers, as well as a training workshop for providers from community-based organizations. It also contributes to a peer program for young carers. 

Evidence-based resources 

In partnership with the University of Waterloo Murray Alzheimer Research and Education Program, the Young Carers Project in engaged in an initiative to: 

  • identify the needs of young carers in the community;
  • reduce stigma associated with being a young carer;
  • create resources that will help them meet their needs and manage their roles; and
  • help community-based agencies to understand young carers and build capacity to better support them.

The result of this work is Support Matters - a By Us For Us Guide, launched in February 2015. This research-based guide, written by young carers, provides resources and information about how to cope the responsibilities of caring for someone else. 

In addition, it provides guidance for adults and community-based organizations to better support young carers. The guide is available in English, French, and Spanish. 

Another resource is the Young Carers Project documentary, a short film that powerfully portrays the lived experience of five young carers. 

Support Matters training workshops

The workshop training program was launched in 2014 with following aims: 

  • Educate and raise awareness of the existence of young carers;
  • Support understanding about the role of a young carer and the impact that caregiving can have on their identity, relationships, and those around them;
  • Provide resources and tools to support young carers, including an action plan for how to move forward in supporting young carers. 

Typically, the workshops have between 10 and 20 participants and are two hours in length. Story-telling and discussion are important components and young carers are involved in facilitation and design of the workshops.

Since 2014, over 300 service providers have taken part in the training workshops, usually educators, health-care professionals, adult allies, and youth. “Adult allies can make a huge difference in the life of a young carer. Though the Young Carers Project, resources and training are available to help providers to support young carers in their family or work.” says Holly Mathers, chair of the Young Carers Project.

Project members are also undertaking an evaluation of the workshops and plan to use a train-the-trainer model to extend their reach across Ontario and enhance their sustainability. 

Peer program

In the Fall of 2017, the City of Kitchener launched the Young Carers Peer Program in collaboration with the Young Carers Project. 

This weekly program includes free workshops to help young carers connect with peers, build resilience, and participate in social activities.

Lessons learned

This initiative has been supported by a grass roots community collaborative, largely driven by a need to enhance understanding and awareness of the needs of young carers in the area. 

Local partnerships have been essential to support this work, and will continue to be needed to ensure the program can be sustained over the long term. 

As the needs of young carers continue to increase in Ontario and awareness is raised on the issue, the need for collaborative action based on the experiences of young carers will become increasingly important. 

For more information about the Young Carers Project, visit the website or follow YCP on Twitter @youngcarersp.

References

  1. The Change Foundation (2016). A Profile of Family Caregivers in Ontario. Retrieved from http://www.changefoundation.ca/profile-of-family-caregivers-ontario/ 
  2. Statistics Canada (2012). Young Canadians providing care. Ottawa, Ontario. Retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-652-x/89-652-x2014003-eng.htm#a6 

Author: Alexandra Harrison 
September 19, 2017