Department of Psychiatry, Center for Mental Health Services Research
Medical Subject Headings
Caregivers; Child of Impaired Parents; Child; Siblings; Family Relations; Mental Disorders; Mentally Ill Persons
Health Services Research | Mental and Social Health | Psychiatric and Mental Health | Psychiatry | Psychiatry and Psychology
Background Information: The concept of “young carers” has been framed in the literature as children providing care and assuming household responsibilities when parents have physical and/or mental disabilities (Aldridge & Becker, 2003). In the United Kingdom, young carers have been studied extensively, leading to increased access to services and supports (Dearden & Becker, 2004). Our goal is to explore the concept of young carers in the U.S.
Aims: 1) To describe the care giving and household responsibilities of children and youth living with parents with mental illnesses, how often they are performed, and the feelings of children and youth about these responsibilities. In addition, we are exploring the daily activities and interactions of children and youth; and 2) To assess the feasibility and usefulness of certain measures for use with younger children.
Methods: Data were obtained in baseline interviews conducted with children and youth participating in the Family Options study. Interview data were obtained from 47 children and youth between the ages of 8 and 16 years at the time of entry into the study. The sample is balanced in terms of gender. The majority of the children are white. About half had ever had an IEP. Over two thirds had ever had any emotional/behavioral problems. The majority had been involved with child protection services. Interviews included questions from a structured measure used in previous research on young carers (Aldridge & Becker, 1993) and open-ended interview items from the Behavioral and Emotional Rating Scale-2nd Ed. (BERS-2; Mooney, Epstein, Ryser, & Pierce, 2005).
Results: Most of the children and youth reported having responsibilities such as helping to provide care for their mother (82%), helping mom get ready to go out (58%), and helping mom to get up in the morning (50%). Children also reported doing chores such as washing dishes (60%), helping with laundry (69%), and helping with sweeping, vacuuming or dusting (84%). Most children (95%) said the amount of work they had to do around the house seemed fair to them and that they felt appreciated for this work (91%). Ninety-four percent of children and youth indicated they spend time “doing things they like.” Also, about half (51%) indicated they would like to be doing more of these activities. Almost ninety percent (89%) reported they spend time playing or hanging out with friends. Interviewers noted that children’s ages may have affected their interpretation of some of the questions. Also, parents were often nearby while children were being interviewed, which may have influenced children’s responses.
Discussion: While children perform care giving and other responsibilities in the home, these responsibilities seem to be balanced with engagement in personal activities and friendships. Further research might explore children’s attitudes about their responsibilities in relation to their parents’ illnesses and their relationships with their parents, as well as their perceptions of the balance between these responsibilities and their personal activities. Recommendations for the future include interviewing children without their parents present and providing additional clarification for younger children on the meaning of questions regarding care giving and household responsibilities.
Citation: Seligowski, A., McNamee, P., Albert, K., Williams, V., & Nicholson, J. (2008). Exploring the concept of “Young Carer” in families living with parental mental illness. Poster presented at the 3rd Annual UMMS Psychiatry Research Day, Worcester, MA, October.