Monday, October 10, 2016

Former Child Caregivers’ Adult Views (Research, Video 2:04)

Being caregivers for ill adults in the home is the reality of over a million school children in America. Many are from racial-ethnic minority communities, low to mid-income families, and single-parent households. As a former public school principal, it was not unusual for me to have students in elementary through high school grades with attendance problems due to caregiving responsibilities at homes when no one else was available to help. These children’s responsibilities included medicating, dressing, feeding, bathing, taking care of siblings, and more. The emotional stress of child caregivers can be even more harmful to them than the physical burdens. Unfortunately, as the economy struggles and the ranks of baby boomers expand, increasing numbers of children are being assigned caregiving responsibilities.

While caregiving roles of children under 18 who are living with parents who have health conditions or disabilities have been studied extensively abroad, little U.S. research has examined the caregiving activities and perceptions of children with similar parents. This U.S. research on child caregivers includes childhood perceptions of caregiving from adults sharing their childhood caregiving experiences years later. Through interviews with 20 adult former child caregivers of a parent with significant mobility disability, the following themes emerged:

1)  Most interviewees assisted their disabled parent with activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental ADLs.
2)  Some children provided more medical supports.
3)  Several parents, especially of older interviewees, did not seek their children's care.
4)  Interviewees reported both positive and negative childhood attitudes about caregiving.
5)  Roughly half recalled as children feeling proud, special, or otherwise positively toward caregiving activities,
6)  About one-third viewed caregiving as just part of their daily reality (i.e., simply needing to be done).
7)  Approximately half remembered also feeling resentful, primarily from time demands, insufficient appreciation, and being different from their peers.
8)  Interviewees reported gender and cultural factors affecting their caregiving roles and perceptions

These varied responses suggest that more understanding regarding caregiving roles of children and perceptions they have about their involvement are needed. This knowledge can lead to improving their experiences as well as those of the parent in need of caregiving. More people are recognizing this problem and, for some children, but not nearly enough, help is being provided. The Caregiving Youth Project sponsored by the American Association of Caregiving Youth provides in-school assistance and a caregiver camp for children who are caregivers.

This video focuses on children doing caregiving related to excessive supervision of other siblings and responsibility for household chores. These kinds of responsibilities can burden children in all kinds of living situations. Featured is research done by Michigan State University regarding effects that childhood caregiving can have on these children when they become parents themselves. Because they may not understand appropriate child development, they may be less sensitive with their own children and parent them in the ways they were raised.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

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