Twelve-year-old year old Waylen Jones had been missing from school for three days.
His youth support service worker, Mark Shannon from Mission Australia, had grown increasingly concerned and so decided to embark on the hour-long drive from his office in central Hobart to Jones’ family’s rural property to investigate.
There he found Jones, in the front yard, busily tending to the garden.
Inside the house, his grandparents, Stan and Betty, were resting in bed, both nursing sore hips after a cascade of misfortune caused them to both suffer falls.
Unlike other children his age, Waylen’s top priority at that point was not school, nor catching up with mates, but ensuring his home was fit for an upcoming house inspection.
After all, his primary instinct was to help, to the best of his ability, the two loving grandparents who had raised him from infancy.
“When it came to Waylen… that’s just the way it was,” Shannon tells Aged Care News.
“When [his grandparents] weren’t able to do stuff, or didn’t have the capacity, he had to do it.”
Jones is just one example of the estimated 235,000 young Australians aged 12 to 25 who fulfil a caring role for family or friends.
These young carers often juggle school, employment and their caring responsibilities, which can range from household chores, cooking, assisting with medication to looking after younger siblings and providing emotional and advocacy support for the person they care for.
And it has only become more challenging for these young carers with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has seen more people than ever fulfilling a caring role,” Carers Australia chief executive officer, Liz Callaghan, says.
“This is particularly impacting young carers as they’ve been required to isolate at home with the person they care for, and deal with disrupted schooling.
“This is concerning, as research shows that young carers are already more susceptible to social isolation, financial and educational disadvantage, unemployment and poor physical and mental health.”
But there is help available for these selfless young citizens.
Funded by the Federal Government, the Young Carer Bursary offers 1000 grants nationwide each year, with each grant providing a young carer with $3000.
“These grants are available to acknowledge and support young carers and ensure they do not forgo their future career opportunities.” Callaghan says.
It was in 2019 that Shannon discovered the opportunity and instantly knew Jones would be a perfect candidate.
“I thought, ‘right, I’m going to apply for that on his behalf,’ just so that he’s got that bit of extra money and is not having to ask his nan and pop all the time,” Shannon says.
Unsurprisingly, Jones, now 16, was awarded the grant in 2020, and it has helped him to enjoy a more ‘normal’ teenage life.
“It just helped with things like going with his mates to McDonald’s or to the movies, and to buy new clothes and footy boots,” Shannon says.
“It’s about enabling those things that a young person like Waylen should be getting at his age that a parent would usually supply or provide.”
Applications for the 2022 Young Carer Bursary Program are now open.
Young carers in secondary through to tertiary education (first undergraduate degree only) are eligible to apply.
Click here for more details.
Applications close at 5pm, September 30, 2021.