The UK soaps have always been at the forefront of raising awareness for critical and topical issues and when it comes to young carers, the fact that in the last decade, the amount of young carers has increased by a fifth, Emmerdale is currently doing justice to the impact this can have on young people.
Statistics from a 2018 in depth study have revealed the astonishing figure of nearly 700,000 young people having to care for a disabled adult in the UK alongside their own studies and development.
Let’s face it, being a teenager is no easy feat to begin with. In my capacity as a childcare expert, I have worked with teenagers in schools, learning centres and behaviour intervention groups and know first hand – through their experiences and my own – that there are so many pressures on young people.
Particularly this generation, in an age of social media and that additional judgement which comes with it, growing up nowadays has seen an increase in mental health difficulties.
So add into that the responsibility of the care of an adult in your family who does not have the means to look after themselves. With exam revision, social pressure and hormonal changes, this will create a cocktail of emotions in teenagers.
68% of young carers have reported being bullied in school particularly because of their situation and 45% will go on to develop their own mental health problems.
Additionally, there is a financial impact – which we are seeing in Amelia (Daisy Campbell) as she tries to keep the house afloat while looking after dad Dan (Liam Fox).
Amelia is so desperate that she resorts to stealing and this is heartbreaking but an all too hardhitting reality. She is skipping school, getting abuse and she is unable to focus on her own development but what support is there for her?
It’s not Dan’s fault. He didn’t ask for this situation and we will see it break his heart to see Amelia facing these struggles. As the adult, there is a sense of pride so he is currently in denial about how much help he needs – which is when he makes the dangerous decision to return to work.
The debts that the family find themselves in reflect the reality of the UK – the average income of a young carer family is £5k less than families without that circumstance.
Faced with the financial, physical and emotional impact, it’s astonishing that teenagers can carry this on their shoulders. We should commend them and be proud of them – but also we should be enraged on their behalf that they are often left to their own devices with insufficient help.
Sociology professor Dr Marion Ellison of Queen Margaret’s University in Edinburgh has dedicated specific study to the plight of young carers and impact on their mental health, so much so that she has written extensively on the topic.
She told Metro.co.uk: The physical and psychological stress of caring for a parent, sibling or family member with a substantial disability, physical or mental health need places young carers themselves at risk of mental and physical ill health, social isolation, bullying and educational underachievement.
‘The Covid 19 health pandemic has placed an intolerable burden on young carers in the UK with 40% of young carers aged between 12 and 17 and 59% of young adult carers aged between 18 and 25 describing their mental health as deteriorating as a result of the Covid 19 health pandemic (The Carers Trust, 2020).
‘Young carers urgently need to be provided with adequate and meaningful levels of health and home care support from a range of services to ensure their current and future physical and psychological well-being.’
Emmerdale viewers will continue to watch Amelia and Dan’s story develop and I genuinely hope it strikes a chord.
Of course, the general audience will know from the off that Amelia shouldn’t be facing this alone – but if this can open up the eyes of someone with even a little sway, then Emmerdale has done the right thing by shining a torch on this.
As for any young people judging or giving a hard time to peers who miss days of school, may be unkempt and may be poor – the episodes may also give a chance to reflect that there are more often than not circumstances out of control.
And we should remember compassion, empathy and support – for any young person who has responsibilities beyond their young, defining and developing age.
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