Society must assist ‘young carers’ struggling under heavy family burden

Situations in which children and young people bear a heavy burden of providing care for family members, and have their studies and lives affected as a result, must not be overlooked. It is important for local governments and relevant organizations to cooperate to provide them with appropriate assistance.

The government has released the results of the first nationwide survey on children and young people who provide nursing care for and look after family members. About 6% of second-year junior high school students and about 4% of second-year high school students said they had a family member who they were looking after, according to the survey.

The family members they look after are mainly siblings, parents and grandparents. They are responsible for a wide range of tasks, including preparing meals and other housework; dropping off and picking up siblings from nursery school; assisting with bathing and toilet needs; medication and financial management; and accompanying people on outings.

Children and young people who look after family members on a daily basis are dubbed “young carers,” and support for them is spreading in Britain and other countries.

It is important for families to help each other, and there have always been children who look after such people as younger brothers and sisters, and sick parents.

However in recent years, it has been pointed out that some of these children and young people are the only ones to bear this heavy responsibility. This stems from the fact that there are fewer people at home to provide care for family members as a result of the declining birthrate and aging population, as well as an increase in the number of working parents.

The exact picture regarding young carers was not always known. It is significant that the government’s survey has made the current situation clear. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry are expected to come up with measures in as early as May based on the latest survey. It is hoped that the ministries will compile steps to address young carers’ issues and concerns.

The survey highlighted children and young people who were overly burdened by providing care for family members.

Both second-year junior high school students and second-year high school students spent as much as four hours on average taking care of family members on weekdays. More than 10% of students in both groups who answered they had a family member to look after said they spent more than seven hours a day. Some respondents said they did not have enough time to study or sleep, and some had to change their career options.

It is concerning that more than 60% of students in both groups who answered they had a family member to look after said they had never consulted anyone about their situation. There were quite a few cases in which the respondents said they “found it difficult to discuss family matters” and “did not want people to become prejudiced toward their families.”

To prevent children and young people from being isolated, it is necessary for people around them to become aware of their concerns. Relevant organizations should work together to establish a system to provide support to young carers by creating an environment in which they can readily consult someone about their worries.

The Kobe city government in April set up a section dedicated to supporting young carers. Social welfare workers and other professionals will accept consultations from teachers and others, via email and telephone calls, to deal with the matter in cooperation with such entities as schools and nursing care departments.

Kobe plans to focus on training welfare workers and teachers, and create opportunities for children and young people to interact with each other. It will serve as a useful reference for other local governments.

People concerned should share relevant issues and support young carers via society as a whole.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 26, 2021.