ToucanTech's Community Comment series provides a view of how community management is evolving, from a range of experts around the world.
What is a young carer? What are some of the challenges they face?
Young carers are between the age of 5 and 18 and they help to look after a relative with a disability, illness, mental health condition, or drug or alcohol problem. Young carers offer the person they care for a huge amount of support and often do a lot around the house such as cooking, cleaning, giving medication, caring for siblings and providing emotional support.
Young carers face challenges that other young people their age normally don’t. When we ask young carers to describe their childhood, the two words which come up most frequently are worry and responsibility. The extra responsibilities young carers face can have an impact on other areas of their lives, their physical and mental health can be affected, their attendance and performance at school and the time they have to spend with friends or doing hobbies can be restricted.
Are there any exciting events or campaigns coming up that you would like to highlight?
This summer we have over 500 young carers attending one of our Making Memories events. We are holding the first ever MYTIME summer camp, where over 100 young carers will get the opportunity to spend time together, having fun and taking part in activities like Nerf Gun wars and climbing. These days out are hugely important as it gives young carers the chance to take a break from their caring responsibilities and meet other young people who share similar experiences.
The past year
How has your professional community responded to the unique challenges that we have faced during the global pandemic? What do you think the biggest challenges have been for the professionals you interact with?
This year has been unlike any other, I started at MYTIME just a few months before the first lockdown in March, 2020 and like many organisations we have had to pivot our services and come up with creative solutions to overcome the many barriers we’ve faced.
MYTIME launched a Zoom Youth Group back in May 2020 to enable the young carers to come together on a weekly basis and overcome the isolation so many of them were experiencing. This has grown enormously over the past year and we now have over 90 young carers attend every week. They get to do an incredible range of activities, from Lambing Live where they went on a virtual visit to a farm to see lambs being born, to learning how to draw cartoons with famous artists.
What impact are you aware of on the ultimate causes behind the communities you are in contact with - have people, campaigns, or goals been put at risk, or suffered as a result?
Young carers have faced significant challenges throughout the past year, from not being able to access online learning due to a lack of access to IT equipment, to the increased levels of isolation brought about by schools being closed. There has been a significant rise in the number of young carers seeking support for their mental health, much of this linked to the increased pressure and worry associated with caring for someone who face higher risks and are more vulnerable to covid-19.
On the other hand, do you have any examples of success stories or anecdotes about positive outcomes that have emerged from operating differently during the COVID era?
The MYTIME Zoom Youth Group has been a huge success, young carers in Dorset have previously been unable to come together on a weekly basis because of the sheer size of the county. These young carers now meet every week, giving them a valuable opportunity to meet other young carers, share experiences they may not have had access to and take a break from their caring role.
When we asked the young carers and their families whether they wanted the Zoom Youth Group to continue now we have come out of the national lockdown, it was a resounding yes. We are now looking for funding to enable us to continue this over the next 5 years.
The here and now
What is the atmosphere like at the moment within the networks you work with - would you say there is a positive undercurrent and signs of optimism, or are people experiencing fatigue with the limitations that we are dealing with across the world?
We are beginning to see the impacts of the past year, with more and more young carers being identified and needing support. There has been a huge increase in the requests for support for young carers struggling with their mental health, which is completely understandable but also very sad.
Within our organisation we are extremely optimistic about the future, we are excited to get back to delivering face to face activities and continuing to develop our work in schools. It has definitely been a long year and we have faced some hardships, but however challenging it has been because the purpose of our work is so clear and has had such positive impacts on the people you work for there is always hope and a reason to continue striving forward.
Are you seeing any marked change in how networks have started to reinstate in-person engagement practices in recent months, or during periods where restrictions are lifted?
Now that we are coming out of the crisis, there is definitely a healthier blend of face to face and online activity taking place. It is exciting to be together with other people and sharing ideas and conversation in a more spontaneous way.
Have you spoken to any contacts recently who have taken the opportunity to change their ways of working, are employing new tactics or trialling alternative techniques?
MYTIME and many other organisations are now much more confident in offering flexible working for their staff. This is fantastic and for the MYTIME team it has created a very healthy work/life balance.
In the future
Whilst it’s tricky to predict, do you foresee any long-lasting outcomes for fundraising and community engagement operations or initiatives that your community would welcome?
The generosity and community spirit which emerged during the pandemic was incredible, I hope that this continues well into the future. The emergence of online fundraising events was fantastic, it facilitated huge groups of supporters to come together and share an experience making it much more accessible for some.
Do you think that working patterns or location could change permanently, and where certain roles make this impossible, do you think this disparity might be hard to manage?
This year has forced employers to think differently and accept a new way of working, whereas before geography really mattered it has become clear that with the right systems and structures employees can be based anywhere and still do a fantastic job. It will be interesting to see whether this changes as the world opens up and more face to face events take place. I wondered if we will start to see a more hybrid approach to events with opportunities to participate both virtually and in person. We are planning a conference for schools and teachers working with young carers next year at Bournemouth University and we are planning to host a h
What kind of message would you like to send to your peers and professional network in the coming months - what is motivating you, and have you found a silver lining?
I have learnt a huge amount this past year, the MYTIME team has gone from just 3 to 12 people over the past 12 months and until recently many of the staff had not met face to face. This year proved to me that by creating a strong culture which runs throughout the organisation and is present in every decision we make, that a team who have never physically been together can still thrive and achieve incredible things.
“If you are lucky enough to never experience any sort of adversity, we won't know how resilient you are. It's only when you're faced with obstacles, stress, and other environmental threats that resilience, or the lack of it, emerges.” Maria Konnikova
Krista Sharp is the CEO of MYTIME Young Carers, a UK charity which provides young carers with the support, friendship and opportunities that every child deserves. You can support MYTIME Young Carers by donating £25 to help send one young carer on a Making Memories day out. When Krista isn’t working, you can find her taking her dogs Ernie and Storm, on long walks in the Dorset countryside.
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