Young carer reveals ‘isolation’ of looking after family during lockdown

A young carer has spoken about feeling isolated in lockdown after her vulnerable family members were forced to shield.

Marisa Olusemo, 17, is a carer for her mum Jacqueline, who uses a wheelchair and has diabetes, and her older brother, who is autistic. She didn’t realise how much work she did at home until the first lockdown earlier this year.

There are an estimated 700,000 young carers in the UK, with children often unaware they’re fulfilling a care role. Research from children’s charity Barnado’s shows most young carers undertake around 30 hours of work a week.

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‘The virus also makes me concerned for my family and has put me a bit on edge. My mum has to shield because of her diabetes, and my oldest brother, who helps me with caring, he’s asthmatic and had to shield as well. It leaves just me and my dad to do errands, which can be quite tiring.

‘I have to be as organised as possible in terms of time management. Time is precious. Sometimes everything is fine, and then all of a sudden one of my family members is in hospital and I have to go.

‘Other times my dad will call and tell me he’s doing a late shift at work, so I need to cook dinner. It can be overwhelming, but luckily I have support which helps. It’s a bit easier now schools are open too. I hate doing exams but I love going there.’

Children from black and Asian families are 1.5 times more likely to be young carers than white children, and twice as likely to be in poverty. With the black and Asian community also more at risk of coronavirus, it means those children are also more likely to fall behind at school during the pandemic.

Marisa has been looking after her brother since she was born, and at 14 became a carer for her mum after her health dramatically declined. She accompanies her mum anywhere she needs to go.

She didn’t know she was a carer until she suffered a breakdown at school, which led to her receiving counselling. She was then referred to Barnardo’s Young Carers’ Service in 2018, and she now visits their after-school club at the Wellbeing Hub, in Ilford, once a week.

The hub gives her space to do homework and allows her to meet other carers. Through Barnado’s, she’s developed a passion for raising awareness about caring, which has led her to meet the Duchess of Cornwall and popstar Billie Eilish.

Marisa said: ‘If you think you might be a young carer, you probably are. I think it’s so important to know it’s okay to seek help. There are tonnes of people going through the same.

‘The biggest thing you can do to support carers like me is by asking how they’re doing and making sure they’re not alone. Just keep checking in with people. It can make such a big difference.’

Barnado’s recently launched Boloh, the UK’s first helpline supporting vulnerable black, Asian and minority ethnic children and families impacted by coronavirus. For more information about the helpline, click here.

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