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The Littlest Caregivers

The first time I heard about children serving in the role of family caregiver, was in conversation with my college roommate, decades before I knew that my life’s work would revolve around supporting family caregivers.

One cool clear evening in Tallahassee, Florida where we were attending school, he told me the story of his childhood. From the age of ten, he had become defacto primary caregiver for his father, mother and sister, each of whom was living with debilitating illnesses. I sat stunned as he recounted the challenges he had been dealing with only a few years earlier and how fast he had to face real life tests when most of his contemporaries were just worrying about passing the next algebra test.

This past week, as I attended the National Council on Aging/ American Society on Aging Conference in Anaheim, California, many of my conversations with others involved in caregiver support centered around the effect that caregiving has on the entire family. So many times I am reminded that caregiving is actually an issue which affects every member of the family and none more than the children who are caregiving.

My good friend, Dr. Connie Siskowski, of the Caregiving Youth Project conducted a survey distributed to 54 Palm Beach County middle and high schools, show that, “out of 11,029 middle and high school students being asked if they had a family health situation at home, almost 70% indicated that there was someone with a specific medical condition living with them or close by, and that, strikingly “Ninety percent said they were participating in care.”

Caregiving is truly a family affair and we need to make sure that we are all paying attention to the needs of even the littlest caregivers.

Caregiving Youth Project

Gary Barg

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