Young carers in Canada, a spotlight on research

The opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Change Foundation.

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Vivian Stamatopoulos, Ph.D., Young Carer Researcher

In May, CBC’s The National aired Caring for Tor, a short documentary about young adult carer Stephane Alexis. Stephane, a 24-year-old from Ottawa, has put his educational and career goals on hold to help care for his brother Torence (Tor), who has cerebral palsy. 

Stephane is not alone.

My 2012 research showed that over 1.25 million Canadian youth between the ages of 15 to 24 provided unpaid caregiving, in the context of aging and/or long-term illness or disability[i]. Importantly, these statistics omit children and youth under the age of 15 years, putting the actual number of Canadian young carers somewhere in the ballpark of 2 million. Although it appears that Canada has one of the largest global young carer cohorts, the issue remains relatively unheard of across Canada.

To be clear, these children and youth are not just casually helping out. In fact, the majority of young carers involved in my research provide roughly 30 hours of unpaid care per week. They juggle the equivalent of a full-time job alongside their full-time studies. The most troubling of my findings, however, relates to what I call the “young carer penalty”[ii] incurred by those providing ongoing and substantial care. Building off the established “care penalty”[iii] experienced by adult women who have historically provided the lion share of unpaid caring labour, I show how substantial child and youth-based caregiving constitutes a form of hidden labour that carries with it a range of pecuniary and non-pecuniary costs. These costs include (but are not limited to) decreased educational performance, compromised employment and extracurricular opportunities, increased social isolation, fractured peer relationships, sleeplessness, anxiety and self-harm[iv]. What’s worse, these young people often deal with this care burden in isolation given the limited number of young carer programs across Canada[v].

In other parts of the world, young carers are factored into national policies and have access to a comprehensive range of caregiver supports. In the United Kingdom, young carers have legal rights as caregivers and are provided with a choice of a direct monetary payments or access to over 350 dedicated young carer programs[vi]. In Australia, similar services exist in addition to a national young carer bursary program for those studying at the secondary school level or above[vii], prompted by evidence showing that Australian young carers are more likely to be NEET (neither in education, employment or in training) than their non-caregiving peers.[viii]

While we have a long way to go to catch up to other countries currently supporting young carers, there has been a recent and growing movement across Ontario to bring light to the cause. In November 2017, The Change Foundation brought together over 20 young carers and over 60 professionals, policy makers and researchers for an inaugural Young Carers Forum. Here, the goal was to highlight the issues faced by young carers and discuss how to better support their unique caregiving needs. Recently, I have also been called upon to share my research with ministry officials and community organizations across Ontario, who are recognizing that an increasing number of young carers utilize their services. While these developments are positive, they must remind us that on the precipice of change, we stand to take the growing provincial interest in young carers and turn that into a national framework addressing the needs of such young people across Canada.

About the researcher: Dr. Vivian Stamatopoulos is a professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT). Her research focuses on child and youth-based caregiving (i.e., young carers). For more information, Vivian can be reached at vivian.stamatopoulos@uoit.ca.

References:

[i] Stamatopoulos, V. (Forthcoming). Supporting or separate domains? Parentification and young carers in Canada. In L.M Hooper (Ed.), Parentification: racial, ethnic, cultural, and contextual influences on culturally tailored assessment and treatment (pp. XX–XX). New York, NY: Springer-Science.

[ii] Stamatopoulos, V. (2018). The Young Carer Penalty: Exploring the costs of caregiving among a sample of Canadian youth. Child & Youth Services. doi.10.1080/0145935X.2018.1491303

[iii] England, P., & Folbre, N. (1999). The cost of caring. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 561, 39–51. doi:10.1177/000271629956100103

[iv] Stamatopoulos, V. (2018). The Young Carer Penalty: Exploring the costs of caregiving among a sample of Canadian youth. Child & Youth Services. doi.10.1080/0145935X.2018.1491303

[v] Stamatopoulos, V. (2015). Supporting Young Carers: A Qualitative Review of Young Carer Services in Canada. International Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 21(2), 178-194.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] http://youngcarers.net.au/young-carer-bursary-program/

[viii] Cass, B., Smith, C., Hill, T., Blaxland, M., & Hamilton, M. (2009). Young carers in Australia: Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of their care giving. FaHCSIA Social Policy Research Paper #38. Canberra: Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

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