Jamaal's story

Jamaal OtienoWe spoke to young carer Jamaal, who is destined for great things. At the age of 16 he shows resilience and maturity way past his years, which he puts down to being a young carer. Despite the responsibilities he carries at such a young age, he still know how to have fun. Jamaal opens up about the challenges and positives of life as a young carer in a recent Q&A session.

Who do you care for and what does this entail?

I care for my younger brother, who is 13. He has ADHD and Autism. My main responsibilities are to ensure he’s happy, is having a good day and I give him his medication. I’m like a third parent to him, as I help him to feel safe and secure. In lockdown I’ve been caring for him between 40 and 60 hours a week.

What are your challenges as a young carer?

The most challenging thing I have to deal with is his behaviour, which can often be unpredictable. Nothing guarantees that what starts off as a good day, it will continue that way, as something small could happen, such as a slight change to his routine, which can act as a trigger to cause him anxiety. I’ve learnt a lot about conflict resolution and often I have to tip-toe around him, to ensure nothing happens which would heighten his angst.

In my research about young carers I found we miss out on at least eight hours a week in terms of sleep and school work, let alone time for any socialising and concentrating on our own wellbeing. Caring can be difficult, as it does take its toll on you and you have to be aware of your own mental health. If you do start to feel low, seek help if you can.

What are the positives of being a young carer?

I realise how much support I get from my friends, who are very understanding of my situation. Caring also teaches you advance life skills and learning to juggle different priorities. It becomes normal for young carers to learn to adapt. But when people recognise your achievements and the challenges you face, it does make you feel very accomplished.

How do you support yourself?

If I’ve got a couple of hours free, I try and do something for myself to help me relax. Often me and my brother will play a video game together to help us both relax. The easiest game to play is a board game. We let my brother pick whose team he wants to be on. I’ve worked out, he goes to mum for comfort, dad to win and me for fun.

What support would you like to see in schools?

I’m campaigning for each school to have a teacher young carers could go to, who is aware of the issues we face and who has spoken to young carer organisations. They should be educated to learn about young carer experiences and understand how life can be different. A dedicated lead would be great for young carers to know there was a person they can go to, to seek support, rather than trying to find someone to ask for help. When help is offered its easier to access and removes barriers. A lead in schools would also be someone young carers could build a relationship with
and build trust with. 

I have also been working with Carers in Bedfordshire on a project where schools can gain an award for the work they carry out in helping young carers. Schools need to also be aware of what young carers can give in terms of leadership. A lot of us become naturally good leaders because of our life experiences and we are active in our communities and can support the school in many ways too.

What support have you received from Carers in Bedfordshire (CiB) that has helped you?

The best support I’ve received from the charity has been the days out. These have allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and going on the day trips has really boosted my confidence. They have also made me realise that it’s ok to take a break from caring, it’s ok to relax. I’ve also meet lots of other young carers through CiB who understand each other’s situation and it’s been really easy to make friends, as we’re all in the same boat. We automatically have a bond, as we can relate to each other and support each other.

Have you helped run sessions for us? How have you found this?

I like leadership and responsibility, which probably stems from my caring responsibilities and I enjoy helping other people. On one of the role model programmes I attended, other young carers felt nervous about swimming in the river, so I jumped in to ease their anxieties.
CiB gives so many great opportunities. Through CiB and the Engagement Team at Bedford Borough Council I have also been involved in a wonderful podcast series which is launching on Spotify, called ‘Welcome to My World.’ People can hear about our experiences and it raise awareness of the issues and challenges we face on a day-to-day basis. We cover a different topic in each of the podcasts and it was
really great to talk and bounce ideas off each other, which makes it flow really nicely. We were also involved in creating the artwork for the podcast and the write up for each one.

What are your plans for the future?

When I leave sixth form I either want to go to university and study a masters in aerospace engineering, preferably at Sheffield, or go straight into the RAF as a fighter pilot. I am already an RAF Cadet, but to be a fighter pilot I’d need to pass medical, fitness test and selection board, before years of training.
I ran for Youth Parliament this year as I wanted to make a difference on the issues no one is talking about. But it was hard to campaign with the lockdown and I was unsuccessful. It didn’t work out for me, but I am aware I can learn from the experience rather than be envious, as that will get me nowhere. It
was good my voice was heard and I was really pleased with the support CiB gave me throughout the process.

Are there any tips you’d give other young carers?

Remember you need to take care of yourself, it’s not selfish take a step back if you can. It will make you a better carer, carers need to be cared for too. If you get some time to yourself, do whatever makes you happy. Go for a run, read a book, go on FaceTime. It’s all about trying to make time in your week to de-stress and relax.
There is so much support out there from Carers in Bedfordshire. I would encourage any young carer to sign up, especially if they are struggling. I understand it can be difficult for some people to talk to others, but whatever you do don’t ever suffer in silence. I know the lockdown has also seen a decline in young carer’s mental health. Talk to a friend, teacher or parent if you can.

What other campaigns have you been involved in?

Young Carers National Voice Zoom Meeting
Young Carers National Voice Zoom Meeting

I am involved in the Young Carers National Voice. It’s a combination of members from

some of the different caring organisations from around the UK. We all form a voice and stand point for young carers to follow, by taking all our experiences and ideas to merge into a campaign to focus on throughout the year. This year’s campaign focuses on support for carers in education and ensuring young carers are looking after their mental health. Our petition has gone live to try to make it law in schools to support young carers. My name is on the petition, as I am one of the leads.
Schools have to have SEND structures in place and ensure there are no barriers to learning. I think it’s shocking there’s nothing in schools to help young carers. The Carers Trust estimate unpaid care saves the state £132bn a year. It’s a staggering amount, especially when you think the budget for the Department of Health and Social Care is £114bn – £18bn less a year than the amount unpaid care saves the Government