Be Free Young Carers (BFYC) works with young carers aged 8 to 24 across South Oxfordshire, Vale and Oxford city. BFYC is the only specialist organisation supporting young carers in Oxfordshire and receives no statutory funding. They have been supporting young carers for over 27 years with emotional and practical advice they need to manage the stresses and responsibilities of being a young carer, balancing their caring role with school and the developmental needs of a child.
BFYC addresses these needs by providing young carers with:
- Emotional support and befriending – meeting with young carers to talk through their concerns, working with schools and families to help to alleviate isolation, anxiety and
stress that so many young carers experience
- Social activities – time for themselves away from their caring roles, to make friends,and have fun
- Young carers leisure card – discounted pay and play activities at local leisure centres
- Training – in key skills such as first aid, relaxation, and cookery/nutrition to improve their self-confidence and ability to cope in their caring roles.
- One to one support from qualified BFYC Support Workers
Throughout the pandemic, BFYC has supported their young carers with the challenges that lockdown has brought. The increased isolation, the decline in mental health and well being, and digital poverty were all addressed. Along with their usual services, that were adapted to go online, BFYC delivered well being boxes and campaigned for laptops. As a small charity, they were able to adapt quickly to the changing environment and needs of young carers. As a result, BFYC has become the go-to charity, with schools and other groups referring to them for resources, as the experts in their community.
The Mental Health of young carers was at an all-time low, every referral they received had at least one mental health concern listed. BFYC knew that after the pandemic, isolation and loneliness would still impact young carers. They were able to meet their needs by providing them with the tools to cope with the changing challenging landscape. Laptops gave them access to the outside world, online support networks and their peers. They had the same tools that other children had. Restarting face-to-face activities provided them with the respite that they needed. Resuming one to one emotional support, filled in the gaps in waiting lists for statutory agencies like CAHMS and other organisations. BFYC targeted the young carers most in need of support with their mental health.
The pandemic affected children and families in three primary ways – mental health, income and education. As we came out of lockdowns, many children and families were still afflicted. OCF wanted to fund projects that helped children and families recover from these adverse consequences. Grants were awarded from our Community Resilience Fund, set up at the start of the pandemic. We understood that the pandemic would have far-reaching effects beyond immediate emergency relief, and so earmarked a portion of the funds raised for later grants.
The pandemic severely disrupted schooling and access to education. The education gap between people from a deprived background and the more affluent was already wide – COVID-19 made it wider. Most education that did continue was put online, which caused those without access to the internet or suitable equipment to be at a still greater disadvantage. OCF supported projects that:
- Helped close the education gap
- Increased school readiness for early years children
- Assisted deprived families in gaining access to online education
- Replaced education that was missed by children at school
- Increased digital inclusion
- Increased literacy and/or numeracy skills.
The pandemic taught BFYC that digital poverty is a huge issue amongst their young carers and that this needs to be addressed. The OCF grant funding of £15,000 was also used to partially fund their Volunteer Coordinator and Support Worker. These roles are both fundamental to the charity, allowing them to expand their befriending service and offer a range of respite activities, personal and peer emotional support and create a link into schools. Beyond this grant funding, they are committed to continuing their support by providing any rising year 7s a laptop for when they start secondary school. This ensures the young carer is not at a disadvantage with their peers.
BFYC provided two laptops to a single mum of 5 children in primary and secondary schools. The children were previously using one smart phone between them, taking it in turns to do school work and attend online lessons. A second laptop was given after hearing about how it was impossible for the children to do their school work and keep in touch with friends and teachers. This enabled the children to access the important secondary school work, while the younger ones spent their time on primary classes. Outside of school the young teens were able to keep in touch with friends.
The laptops had a significant impact, not only on the children but on the mum as well. She felt all alone and didn’t know where to go for help, BFYC was able to support her and the young carers. They attended online workshops and when restrictions were removed joined in with respite activities.
We know our young carers, we know which ones are in need, which ones are struggling with their mental health and which ones need extra support.
BFYC regularly check that their young carers are still utilising the laptop provided and also how it is supporting their learning. They liaise directly with the school about the impact on a student’s performance. They liaise with schools to make sure there is a joined-up approach to help and support.
“We have all come through an incredibly tough time, however it is our team’s strength and determination to help our young carers that has shone through. Our team is passionate about helping and supporting young carers, we are experienced and driven to do our best for them.”