Children as caregivers: many youth play parent-like role in taking care of family members


A Brock University study wants to examine the plight of children and youth tasked with taking care of family members who are sick, disabled, substance abusers or facing similar challenges.


Statistics Canada reported that in 2012, 27 per cent of youths and young adults from 15 to 29 in Canada provided some form of care to a family member or friend with a long-term health condition, disability or aging needs.


Now Brock researcher Cayleigh Sexton is taking the file a step further by studying children and youth who have to take on parental-type duties like cooking, cleaning, administering medicines and putting younger siblings to bed.


It’s a situation that brings with it challenges and blessings, says Sexton, a master’s student.


“Young carers are everywhere, yet they are hidden and they don’t necessarily share their role with other people,” she says. “It’s important that we step up and understand that these children do exist and that we need to support them.”


Sexton is looking for 55 children and youth, ages 12 to 18 years old, who are taking on extra responsibilities because of a family member’s chronic illness, disability, mental illness or other condition.


Participants can be from the regions of Niagara, Haldimand-Norfolk, Halton and Toronto, and will need to answer a 30-minute in-person or online survey exploring the stresses they experience as young caregivers.


Sexton is researching the factors that cause stress among children and teenaged caregivers and the possible negative outcomes of loneliness, low self-esteem, depression and anxiety.


“The research results will be used to better understand daily stressors of caregiving and the types of coping strategies that can help minimize the negative impacts of this role,” explains Sexton.


She will also examine the unexpected benefits that young caregivers may experience.


“Research has shown there can be increased maturity and resilience among young carers. A lot of them are validated in that role and feel like they’re doing something meaningful in their family.”


Sexton’s initiative comes 10 years after Brock participated in the first Canadian study to explore the experiences of child caregivers and ways to support them. In that 2007 project, Child and Youth Studies Associate Professor Heather Chalmers partnered with the Niagara non-profit Young Carers Initiative on the Powerhouse Project. As a result, Chalmers produced a study called “Hear Me Now: The Hidden Reality of Young Carers.”


Since then, Chalmers and her students have continued to learn more about the issue.


“Our partnership with Powerhouse continues as they use our findings to refine their programs to most effectively meet the needs of young carers,” says Chalmers, who is Sexton’s research supervisor. “Cayleigh’s research is important for understanding how best to support young carers who struggle with the stress of being a caregiver.”


People interested in participating in this latest research should contact or 905-688-5550 x5534.