Saturday, 14 March 2009

Pick Up The Phone

Every year they do it. And every year it reinforces false messages.

There's a kid called Danny. He lives with his Mum and Dad. Mum has MS and is housebound, Dad suffers with depression and agoraphobia. They never go out. They need Danny to do most of the chores around the house. Danny works so hard that his schoolwork suffers. He has few friends. He is exhausted and lonely.

This is the typical scenario presented by Comic Relief in their Young Carer films. The children are always exhausted and lonely. The parents are always totally dependent on the children. A Young Carers' project always comes to the rescue. Thank God for Young Carers, because otherwise Danny would go mad or kill himself or something.

Cut to presenters. "It's not fair, a child doing all that for their parents and not having a childhood. So pick up the phone."

No, don't pick up the phone. Let's deal with some facts for a second. Look at reality.

Danny is indeed one of thousands of young carers across the UK. Many of them are not getting the help they need from social services to relieve them of the chores they carry out to look after their families. There is an expectation by social services that young children, children who may be no more than eight or nine, should carry out heavy bin bags every week, should cook, clean and wash clothes. If you are disabled and live with someone who is not, then nine times out of ten you will find it far harder to get help than if you live alone. This is because carers, young and old, save social services money.

Many children like Danny are indeed lonely, shunned by their classmates because their Mum's a freak or their Dad's a nutter. So no one at school asks them round for tea. The kids at school are only copying their parents, who don't socialise with weirdos. A whole new generation of disablist people, sadly in the majority, is created by this handed-down experience.

But surely these parents, surely they should be looking out for Danny, even if they can't face the crips themselves? Too busy, far too busy, out of sight out of mind.

Danny, and the thousands of kids like him, needs to be invited round for tea and asked to parties. Then, more than likely, he would be played with at playtime.

What Danny doesn't need, necessarily, is Comic Relief providing him with a Young Carers scheme. So much of his life has been formalised by illness in the family. It may be that the only people popping round to the house are doctors, CPNs, social workers. Does he need more of them? Does he need a label? Does he need to be herded off with all the other Young Carers? Away from classmates, away from parties at weekends, away from play. Does he want to talk about his feelings? Does he want to mix with other ostracized, exhausted, fucked up kids who are angry? What happens when that anger spills over?

Danny's parents may have tried their local Young Carers scheme. They may have found that their child was bored, bullied and far from happy on the few outings he attended. Surprised by the lack of cohesive support, the lack of discipline, Danny's parents may have agreed with his pleas not to be sent back to Young Carers.

Harsh but true.

My local social services expected my son to put out bin bags and clean and do washing when we left his Dad. My son was nine. I got a solicitor who challenged social services. We now have four hours help a week. It stops my son having to do heavy chores and personal care. All the laundry, housework, bed changing, bin emptying and shopping is done by paid adults. As it should be.

My son has experienced a level of social exclusion that I can only keep in check by having his friends round to tea. His friends from school. The ones who rarely invite him back. It's not the kids' fault. And I'm not so petty or needy that I let the lack of reciprocation stop me. What pleases me is that my son and I get to show these kids that you can live with a disability and have a laugh. Make homemade pasta, post YouTube animations, read Simpsons comics, watch films.

And no, Young Carers wasn't all it was cracked up to be. My son, was wise enough to know that being given a label at eight and encouraged to mix with other kids with that label wasn't quite right. What he wanted was to see his friends from school. It's true that for a while that didn't happen a lot. But that wasn't all my fault.

My son was, in the end, relieved of the pressures that can lead society to view parents with disabilities as a burden. A long-fought battle led to us getting the adult, paid-for help that we needed. With that help both of us have more energy to socialise.

It's as simple as that. Why make it more complicated?

And, by the way, if you're going to pick up the phone then call the kid down the road. Ask them round for tea. A plate of fish fingers and a play with your kids will go a lot further than a fiver for Comic Relief.


The Goldfish said...

An excellent post, Seahorse! I have benefited from schemes which have been funded, in part, by Comic Relief. But it is always the case that most of the tragedy of disability in the UK is to do with social isolation.

Matthew Cain wrote a good post about whether Comic Relief actually inspires more charitable giving at all.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 'the goldfish' in that an excellent post.I hope you dont mind but I have added a link to here on Carers UK forum.

seahorse said...

Hi Goldfish, thanks :-) Believe me, this isn't anti Comic Relief. I just get tired of seeing the same old ill-conceived portrayals. Yes it's good to raise awareness. But what are people being made aware of...

Rosemary, welcome. Thanks for linking. I wonder what others think about this. Surely I'm not the only one.

Reading the Signs said...

Well said, Seahorse. I found it quite problematic with the socialising when the kids were younger - never felt able to reciprocate properly (and I just wasn't particularly good with children generally), and this did affect the amount of invitations they received. But we all survived.

e said...

Hi Seahorse,

I am supposed to be in bed with a nasty knee, but was bored and found your blog for the first time.

As a woman with a life-long disability, I am new to blogging, and looking to re-do my existing blog to include disability bloggers.


seahorse said...

Hi Signs, good to hear you all got through the tough years okay.

e welcome. I'm keen to find new blogs so it's good you have found me first.