The Rainey Creations HAF Club based at West Heath Community Centre has been successfully running since 2021. The staff at the club have always been keen to support young people with SEND but have also catered for young carers for a number of years.

Young carers can miss out on a lot of childhood, therefore making it really important to provide the opportunity to take a break from their caring role and simply be a child again. There are two types of carers, those with parents with disabilities, mental health, addictions and chronic illness and young carers who are siblings of a child with a disability, chronic illness or additional needs, Rainey Creations caters for both.

Many of the young carers attending have a sibling with a disability, Autism or chronic illness and for much of their life, they miss out on activities due to appointments, behavioural issues, changes in routine and so on. During the club’s first HAF delivery in the Summer of 2021 staff realised that many parents of the young carers attending were unaware of support available. As a result, in addition to making sure they had a break from caring whilst attending the HAF club staff also proactively signposted parents to organisations such as Noah’s Star, PHaB Camps and many other support groups where young carers are recognised.

For many of the young carers attending a typical day would include getting up in the night to ease their brother’s cramps, entertaining and dressing their sibling because Mum is on the phone trying to get the sleep medication her son needs, or the 8-year-old who helps her 12-year-old sibling with toilet needs and then gets her changed.

A priority for Rainey Community Creations is to ensure when the child arrives at the HAF club, that they are a child first and foremost.

There are many positive impacts noted. The return rate is very high, indicating how the young carers and their siblings are having a great time at the HAF club. For new young carers attending it can take a while to get them into the routine that they are not there to look after their sibling and that it is their club too, and not just catering for their sibling. Where possible the staff split the children into groups and use different rooms. The same activities are provided, but the young carer does not have to see what their brother is doing and if he is spinning or opening doors, it’s not their problem and the staff will deal with it.

For example, if we host a dance session, the young carer can take part and not have to worry that their sister hates loud sounds because she is in another room colouring with a young leader. If the child needs food cut up, we sort it. If they need the toilet, we sort it. The staff don’t dismiss the ideas and instructions from the young carers, they are part of the care team to make sure everyone is having fun. But rather than them missing a session or interrupting an activity, we do it. It can be hard for young carers to let go, but by the end of the first few days, we notice that they are relaxed, having fun and even being able to misbehave and be cheeky! They get to experience so many new things, a simple trip to the Safari Park which has always been out of reach for many young carers due to their siblings being too overwhelmed.

Our other young carers are those looking after adults. We have parents with sensory loss, children of deaf parents, addicts, chronic illness, disabilities, ASD etc. These children are advocates for their parents, for example, one 6-year-old participant phones the doctors for prescriptions and another child has been making drinks and microwave meals since the age of 4 and is now 9 years old. For these children, we have been a lifeline.  Most of these children are FSM and the schools are often unaware that the child has made breakfast for siblings, and washed their uniforms before they begin their school day. When these children come to our sessions we try not to let them set tables or anything that is a reminder of home as this is fun and to be children.