As a society, we have yet to recognize the role of youth caregivers ages 8 - 18 years -- and even sometimes younger -- who are responsible for the care of parents, grandparents, siblings and others. The challenges these youth face on a daily basis are unknown to most professionals in health care, education and the community. They are simply off the radar.
A lack of knowledge about youth caregiving also comes with a lack of understanding about the importance of grief support and pre-planning for them. For example, a retrospective review of hospice records of younger clients who were likely to have children in the home, revealed that children were documented in records regarding the death experience yet there was no mention of their caregiving role (Home Healthcare Nurse, 2007).
Without recognition of youth in a caregiving role, it is likely that there is also little attention to their loss of purpose after their care receiver dies.
When anyone experiences the death of a loved one, a void in life happens. What fills that emptiness? As part of the healing process, and in conjunction with traditional children's bereavement programs, it is important to recognize and address the differences and obstacles a youth caregiver may face compared to a non-caregiving youth dealing with a loss.
Youth caregivers may jeopardize their own well-being to fill the chasm once occupied by caregiving responsibilities. They need special support and guidance to make healthy choices and avoid risky behaviors, including in some instances, substance misuse or pregnancy.
Connie Siskowski is the president and founder of the American Association of Caregiving Youth. Visit their website at AACY.org.
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