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3:30pm Thursday 12th June 2014 in Leader
AS I look across the table I could have been sitting down to talk to any group of teenagers.
But these three are pretty remarkable characters - just a tiny fraction of the 6,000 plus children across the region providing unpaid care for a relative.
Each has to balance the everyday trials and tribulations of the teen years such as socialising and schoolwork with looking after a loved one.
I’d fully expected them to use this interview to cry out for the attention and praise they surely deserve and to ask for more support.
I was wrong.
What they want is normality.
Not to be bullied at school, a little understanding if they’re having an off day and a chance to grow up and follow their dreams like any of their peers.
“I’d like people to understand it is a difficult situation and be able to go to people for help, but don’t want them to make a fuss.
“I’d really like to dumb down for a day or two, just to not have to think about what I have to do and worry about dad,” says Samuel Bygrave.
The 14-year-old lives in Horden, County Durham, with his dad, Nick, who has schizophrenia.
“I make sure he gets up and has a coffee, help him with his medication and help keep the house right.
“If he is feeling pressure and gets angry I have to remember that he’s not shouting at me it is the schizophrenia, I wish people would try to understand more about mental illness.”
At times Samuel’s attendance at school has suffered but with outside help he is working hard and starting to think about moving away to university.
It is also really important to Samuel to recognise the positives he feels come with being a young carer.
“My home life is normal to me and I love my dad.
“There have been days I’ve gone out and worried the whole time about how he is and what he is doing but I think I’ve had to mature quickly so relate well to adults and that is no bad thing.
“And young carers appreciate the good times, it is too easy to take life for granted but I really treasure the happy days.
“We can also get really close to our families- we spend more time together to build great relationships.”
The eldest of four children, Kieran Steel helps look after two of his brothers who have disabilities and behavioural problems.
The 13-year-old, from Coundon, near Bishop Auckland, said: “It is hectic, I put them bed because they are quite a handful and I guess I’m a big support for mam.
“It is tiring and it is difficult to get up for school some days.
“A couple of my friends know.
“There should be more awareness of what we do.
“If more people knew and noticed they could help and understand without us having to explain to everyone.”
That’s a thought echoed by Jordan Kjenstad (CORRECT), 14, from Newton Aycliffe, who helps care for her younger brother who has epilepsy.
She said: “I babysit so mam and dad can get out but do feel nervous, it is scary having that pressure and responsibility.
“He looks different and when I was younger I was teased about it.
“I’ve only told one teacher and two friends but awareness and understanding would make a big difference to us.”
Kate McEwan is from the family charity Family Action which runs The Bridge Project supporting young carers across County Durham.
“What we do really depends on the young person’s needs, and that of their family.
“It could involve seeking professional care, liaising with schools, group work or aspiration building which can mean visiting college and university open days.”
She said young carers show incredible maturity, strength and loyalty to their families but often need someone to step in and lighten the load.
For information or help visit the website carersweek.org
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