Caregiving Youth Are on the Rise: Millions of Kids Step Up to Care for Ailing Parents, Grandparents, and Siblings

Smithfield, California – Every morning, 12-year-old Aleisha Thompson begins her day by preparing her mother’s medication. This routine is just one of the many responsibilities Thompson takes on as the primary caregiver for her mother, Shelia Boatley.

Boatley, 49, has been disabled since 2000 due to various health issues, including diabetes, nerve and bone problems, and vision impairments. As a result, Thompson must ensure that her mother eats properly, takes her medication, and manages her daily activities. The burden of caregiving falls heavily on Thompson and families like hers across America, placing both financial and emotional strains on children and their families.

Despite the growing number of young caregivers like Thompson, their challenges often go unnoticed. Connie Siskowski, founder of the American Association of Caregiving Youth (AACY), emphasizes the need to raise awareness and support for these young caregivers who play a vital role in their families’ well-being.

Recent reports indicate that an estimated 5.4 million children under 18 provided care to family members with chronic medical conditions or functional decline in 2019. This number is expected to be higher, with Siskowski suggesting a conservative estimate of at least 7.5 million young caregivers in the United States.

The rising demand for youth caregivers can be attributed to various factors such as an aging population, increased drug and alcohol use, mental health issues, and the impact of long COVID. As families struggle to find affordable in-home care or nursing facilities, children like Thompson step in to provide essential support, often at the expense of their education and personal development.

Government assistance for families and children in similar situations is limited, leaving nonprofit organizations like AACY to fill the gap. AACY works to identify young caregivers, provide them with essential resources, and create a supportive community where they can connect with others facing similar challenges.

In countries like the U.K. and Australia, legislation and policies recognize and support young carers through stipends and benefits. However, in the U.S., young caregivers often rely on nonprofits for assistance, highlighting the need for broader government support and recognition of their vital role in society.

As the number of young caregivers continues to rise, it is crucial to address the challenges they face and provide them with the necessary support to ensure their well-being and future success. Organizations like AACY play a crucial role in advocating for young caregivers and providing them with the resources and support they need to navigate their caregiving responsibilities. The impact of caregiving on children’s education, mental health, and overall well-being underscores the urgent need for societal recognition and support for these young heroes.