As long as she can remember Olivia Wyatt has been a caregiver to those around her. She didn’t grow into it and it didn’t come naturally—it was just always part of her.
“It’s hard to remember it coming at all,” says Olivia, 17, “It was just always there. Caregiving was my whole experience.”
Olivia’s caregiving experience is unique due the fact that she is a young carer. Young carers are children, youth, and young adults who provide care and support to a family member with a health issue. It’s estimated that approximately 17% of Ontario caregivers are between the ages of 15 and 24. They are often referred to as an invisible population, as very few people are aware of their situation.
The eldest of four siblings, two of which have Autism and ADHD, Olivia has been the long-time right hand for her mom Lianne, a role which intensified when Olivia’s father Tim was also diagnosed with Autism and ADHD in his 40’s and who suffers from debilitating migraines as a result.
“Olivia was my gift from the universe and my gift to the universe,” says Lianne.
Lianne describes Olivia as fiercely protective of her family, noting that many of Olivia’s friends growing up didn’t understand the need for Olivia to help her brothers off the school bus, or her responsibilities to be at home to assist her mom.
Like many young carers, Olivia has maturity beyond her years, describing her biggest caregiving challenge during high school as simply “staying sane.” To do this, Olivia found solace in drama, which helped to alleviate her anxiety, and also turned to books as a way to escape.
Olivia also found support through the Powerhouse Project, an inter-agency strategy that offers activities and programs for young carers in the Niagara region and Haldimand and Norfolk counties. The Powerhouse Project gives young carers a much needed break from their regular caregiving duties and connects them with young people in similar situations.
“[Powerhouse] is a place where you can just ‘be’ and there are other people who understand,” says Olivia.
Recently eight young carers from the Powerhouse Project, including Olivia, took part in a one-week digital story telling workshop hosted by The Change Foundation in collaboration with Project ReVision, a program of the University of Guelph. Armed with cameras, laptops, and recording equipment, each young carer had the chance to learn and create their own short film about their caregiving experience.
Lianne says this experience opened Olivia’s eyes to a new medium of expression and storytelling.
Now Olivia finds herself at the start of a new experience. After graduating from Laura Secord Secondary School in St. Catharines with a glittering scholastic record (though Olivia is compelled by modesty to mention two B’s in her Grade 12 year), she has just started her first year at Brock University in the Concurrent Education program.
However, with this new opportunity to start making a life on her own, Olivia is also debating whether she wants to caregiving to be part of professional life as well.
But if possessing this foresight, thoughtfulness, and poise say anything about Olivia, it’s that she’s a dynamic young woman and carer with a bright future ahead of her.
For more information on young carers and to watch other videos from Powerhouse Project youth, click here: www.changefoundation.ca/ontario-young-carers.