Young Carers in Switzerland
If relatives fall ill, children and young people often take on the responsibility of caring for them. However, their role is usually not recognised by the public, although in Switzerland far more children than assumed are young carers.
What does ''young carers'' mean?
When a physical or mental illness or impairment occurs in the family or close environment, children and adolescents often have to shoulder additional responsibilities They care and look after their loved ones – and sometimes they even take on care tasks such as administering medication or setting infusions – tasks that are normally done by adults. In most cases, even their teachers, the school staff, or their school mates do not know what they are doing on top of school and training.
Children, adolescents and young adults who are carers – known in the field as young carers and young adult carers – have been one of the central research topics at the Careum School of Health since 2014.
Initial figures thanks to surveys
Until now, there has been a lack of precise figures concerning how many children and young people are affected in Switzerland. Two major national online surveys have now delivered reliable data for Switzerland for the first time. Almost eight per cent of children and young people between 10 and 15 years old care for relatives, with slightly more girls than boys taking on this role.
Young carers often remain silent out of shame
The results of a survey for professionals show that professionals from the education, health and social sectors are still (too) unfamiliar with the phenomenon of young carers, although 40 per cent of those surveyed said that they have come across young people to whom this description applies in their everyday work. This is not surprising: young carers perceive their situation to be normal and never really accept help – often out of shame. For example, they often only attract attention at school when they suffer from a lack of concentration or sleep or if their performance at school starts to dwindle. In general, experts would like more information and specialised further education courses in order to become more aware of and more attentive to children and young people affected by this issue.
Effects of caring roles on Young Carers
The research studies of the Careum School of Health have shown that the caring role can have a negative impact on the physical and mental health of Young Carers. In addition, Young Carers may have difficulties in school and education because of the caring role, and they have less time for sports, leisure activities and to meet their colleagues.
However, young carers also report positive effects of the caring role. They develop a close relationship with their family and the cared-for person, acquire new skills, and feel better prepared for life. In order for young carers to benefit from these opportunities of the caring role without being burdened by it, they need targeted support.
Measures to support young carers
The Federal Office of Public Health's support programme "Entlastungsangebote für betreuende Angehörige" researched the situation and needs of carers. This should serve the further development of relief offers; with the aim that caring relatives can maintain their gainful employment. For Switzerland, a representative population survey of carers (both young carers and adults) was conducted. This survey identified the needs of young carers for support and relief. Based on these needs, the team of the Careum School of Health has developed an initial support, including a website and get-togethers for young carers.
These results are an important first step in drawing attention to the situation of young carers in Switzerland. Political and social measures are urgently needed to better support young carers in school, training and work in the future. That is why the Careum School of Health has also made a commitment over the years to come: various national and international follow-up research projects are researching this important issue for and with young carers and are developing possible solutions and ways of providing support.