Christal Huang, Research Intern
In the spring of 2017, I joined The Change Foundation as an intern. Although I had always had a passion for healthcare, and I had worked in the field before, I had never been involved in work focused on the experience of family caregivers.
Upon my arrival, I was tasked with creating a comprehensive list of the programs and services that exist in Ontario that support young carers. This inventory, which we hope will help guide young carers, their families and healthcare providers, is nearly complete, and we hope to have it released in November.
Here are some of the things I learned through the process of building this resource and speaking with leading organizations across Ontario:
- All across Ontario, organizations are quietly and independently doing bits and pieces of work that have the potential to make a large and meaningful difference in the lives of young carers. Each organization I spoke with shared the unique work they are doing to support young carers. But they were often unaware of other organizations who are doing similar work or work that would complement theirs. It surprised me as I imagined the impact that they could make for young carers by simply being informed about each other’s work, and then of course by working together.
- Ontario does not have a universal understanding and definition of young carer. After meeting with a few of The Foundation’s existing young carer partners, I turned to the internet to further my search. The results for ‘young carer support in Ontario’ were few, with only the organizations that we had already worked with showing up. But when I combined other relevant terms, such as sibling, child, youth, young adult, and caregiver, a slew of other organizations popped up. Although many programs and organizations were not specifically labeled as young carer supports, many were actually supporting this population. Without a universal definition and understanding, it is difficult to be on the same page in terms of how the work from each of our organizations can fit together to ultimately support young carers in the different ways they need. We cannot have a clear direction and create common goals if we do not agree on the problem we are trying to solve.
- Most of the existing resources I found are in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). As with many other healthcare services, supports for the health and well-being of young carers are concentrated in GTHA, or other metropolitan areas like Ottawa and London. While many of these organizations open their doors to young carers coming from anywhere in Ontario, the reality is that these services and programs are likely out of reach for many young carers. This highlights just how crucial it is that we work together to build capacity and deliver meaningful programs and services to young carers wherever they are. Ultimately, given that nearly a quarter of Ontario’s youth aged 15 to 24 are in a caregiving role, there are simply not enough resources available.
Going through this process really opened my eyes to the knowledge gaps that exist when it comes to young carers. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to create awareness of, and support for, all caregivers. I was proud to be a part of it at The Change Foundation. It’s also the driver behind the upcoming forum that The Change Foundation is hosting to tackle this issue head on, the first of its kind in Ontario.
If you know of an organization that works with young carers that we haven’t spoken to yet, or to learn more about the upcoming Young Carers Forum, please contact Catherine Monk-Saigal at firstname.lastname@example.org.