Caring: A Family Affair
Caring: A Family Affair

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Caring: A Family Affair

1.5.4 Networks

The way Katrina's story is presented leaves out others who may be involved with the family. This is because the story was part of a campaign by Community Care magazine to highlight the plight of young carers. It made sense to emphasise Katrina's role and omit information which might detract from the impact of a single-issue campaign.

The discovery of young carers is an interesting example of what happens when the official spotlight is turned on a particular group in society. There have always been children and young people taking responsibility for other members of their families. Charles Dickens’ novel Little Dorrit, written in 1855, was about what we might nowadays call a young carer. But once it becomes recognised that these are not just isolated examples and that young carers are a sizeable minority, pressure builds up to provide support for them. Katrina, for example, was put in touch with a new service for young carers set up by her local authority, a service that would have been unheard of only ten years earlier.

The purpose of this section was to explore how informal carers are defined, and the topic of young carers was introduced to illustrate the complexity of defining them. I therefore won't digress any further into discussion of how young carers get support. The important point is that using labels like ‘informal’ or ‘young carers’ changes the way we look at the world. Twenty years ago Katrina would have been seen as an aberration, a phenomenon which went against the grain. Now she is a young carer. Naming her as such opens the way to thinking about how she and others like her can get support. But it also closes off options. Seeing her as only a young carer, and her family only in that light, can also blinker us to the complexity and individuality of their situation.

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