Children as Caregivers

I was listening to CBC this morning, my favorite radio station, and heard an associate professor of the School of Social Work at the University of British Columbia, Grant Charles discussing the number of children under 18 who are caregivers in their families. These were children under the age of 18, who care for others in the home. The reasons may include parents who are ill or away, and so the child must help the parent or provide care for younger children.

Does it astound you that the statistic provided was that 10% of children are caregivers in countries like Australia, Britain, United States, and Canada? These statistics also show that these children come from a spectrum of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. Jobs may include caring for younger children, housework beyond typical childhood chores, laundry, feeding and bathing parents, or shopping.

It is something I never thought of as a teacher. But, these extra responsibilities have an impact on our children. In a positive light, it builds character, empathy, resilience, and may build a close relationship between the child and the person she/he cares for. What supports are there for these children, once we recognize who they are? These are children who must grow up very quickly, and have a higher level of anxiety than most children.

As teachers and parents advocating for these children, we need to respond to these questions:
1.  Will these children need more time and flexibility, or support for homework?
2.  Could someone on staff be a contact person to provide some monitoring and support for the child?
3.  What community supports might be available, and acceptable to the family?
4.  What might provide some down time to refresh these children prior to taking up these extra responsibilities?
5.  How can we facilitate inclusion of these children in maintaining their own peer friendships?

Click here to hear the original podcast on As It Happens, on CBC.

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