My life as a young carer
Kirsty Browne, 17, let us take a peek into her life as a young carer
Kirsty lives in Armagh, Northern Ireland, with her parents, brother, sister and their dog Copper. She enjoys crocheting and musical theatre. And like many 17-year-olds, she’s currently in college. But Kirsty is not your average teenager.
Kirsty’s day-to-day life often looks a bit different from other young people her age. This is because she is a young carer for her younger brother, Lexie, who has autism.
A young carer is anyone under 18 years old who looks after a family member who is ill, disabled, battling addiction, or has a mental health condition. Kirsty provides all kinds of support for her brother Lexie – both practical and emotional. It can be rewarding but also difficult to juggle.
She shared what a week can look like for her.
“Today we were away in the campervan at Kilbroney Park. After dinner, Lexie started to have an emotional overload over a small inconvenience."
Kirsty has come to know how best to handle situations when her brother is feeling distressed. She describes this as being one of her main roles as a young carer – it’s something she has to deal with most days. Kirsty's responses to situations when her brother is feeling distressed can be to create space for him to relax when encountering difficult moments.
“To get myself out of that situation me, dad and the dog went on a walk through the forest. In that moment, it was so calming watching the sun set and listening to the river.”
“Since we were up in Kilbroney, we decided to take the campervan down to Warrenpoint for the blues festival.
“To make the children and others smile, Lexie put on his inflatable clown costume.
"It was so good to see him enjoying himself and sharing that joy with others.”
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At college, Kirsty is studying Performing and Production Arts. “I love it, I get to perform almost every day with my friends – it's class.”
Unlike Kirsty, not all teens at college find themselves needing to fit their caring responsibilities around their own routines. Before school she helps her brother get dressed, and after school she also takes time to help Lexie with his schoolwork – in addition to doing her own.
“Lexie is currently in the middle of his GCSEs, and this can cause a lot of stress around the house. To combat this, I helped Lexie with his geography revision. In this moment, it was so nice to see him so concentrated yet so relaxed.”
“Today Lexie came home from school early as it was too much stress for him.
"To then give him some space to relax at home, I took the dog for a walk.”
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“Lexie came home early from school again today, but I didn't get to see him much, because once he got home and calmed down I had to leave the house.
“I had arranged to meet Matt from Action for Children. We talked about how I've been getting on, and just had a general catch up. Once we finished, I had to go to work so I didn't get home till late that night.”
Young carers don’t always have someone there just for them. It can be an isolating role – not everyone can relate. Action for Children provides young carers with practical and emotional support. Support workers, like Matt, are able to give advice or just be a listening ear.
Kirsty has to keep an eye out for when her brother might be overwhelmed in situations. Some days he has an emotional overload – others he doesn’t.
Each day is different, and on some days Lexie surprises her.
“We went to the Queen's Jubilee celebrations today in Richill. Even though it was wet and murky outside, Lexie still came with us and even helped at the burger stand.
"On some occasions this could have overstimulated him but this time it didn't, which was amazing to see.”
There are 166,000 young carers in England alone – maybe more. It’s estimated that 600,000 UK children have caring responsibilities but don’t think of themselves as a carer. Kirsty was one of them; she didn’t realise she was a young carer until she came into contact with Action for Children.
We help children and young people manage their caring role through our specialised services. Whether it’s a chat with a support worker, an outing or meet-up with other young carers, or support for the whole family, we aim to add some balance to their lives.
Access to family help and breaks makes a real difference to the children we help.