‘Young carers’ need understanding and support from their communities

Children who take care of their parents, grandparents, or siblings are called “young carers.”

In the first nationwide survey conducted last fiscal year by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, 6% of second-year junior high school students and 4% of second-year high school students said they had one or more family members to take care of.

It is important to create an environment in which people around children who are busy taking care of family members are aware of their worries and can provide appropriate support.

From fiscal 2022, the government said it plans to launch full-fledged support for young carers. It will need to cooperate with local governments to facilitate effective measures for that purpose.

It is important for children to help their parents, but taking responsibility for household chores on behalf of their parents is a great burden that affects various aspects of their lives, including school.

According to local governments and other entities, there are not a few cases in which high school students are often late for school because they are tired due to taking care of household chores such as preparing meals and doing laundry. Some have given up having jobs as they wanted to prioritize taking care of their dementia-afflicted parents.

In families whose main language is not Japanese, children sometimes serve as interpreters when other family members receive medical examinations in hospitals or conduct administrative procedures.

Many have no one to consult about their troubles. It is vital for schools and local governments to quickly notice the situation of such children and establish a system to reach out to them in cooperation with relevant organizations.

The ministry intends to train coordinators for young carers, who will act with related organizations and private groups to support these children. It said it will create a system to cover part of the cost when a local government assigns personnel to welfare offices or elsewhere for that purpose.

In June, the Kobe municipal government opened a special section for consultation and support. The city has assigned social welfare workers and other experts to promote assistance for young carers by coordinating with related organizations involved in education, welfare, child-rearing, disability assistance and other areas, based on reports from schools and local residents.

So far, about 100 cases have been reported to the city. Judging that nearly 40 people among them, including children from single-mother families, need full-fledged support, the city has been working to support them.

The Kobe municipal government stepped up its efforts after an incident in which a woman in her 20s killed her grandmother with dementia as she was extremely exhausted by the burden of nursing care. Such a tragedy must not be repeated.

The ministry plans to promote training sessions mainly for teachers and nursing care workers to understand the challenges related to young carers. It is essential that the adults around them deepen their understanding and prevent isolation of young carers.

Many points remain unclear about the reality of the caregiving burden that children have to shoulder. Local governments need to make efforts to understand the actual situations surrounding young carers.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Nov. 10, 2021.