Young Carers in Switzerland
If relatives are sick, children and young people often take on the responsibility of caring for them. However, their role is usually not recognised by the public. There are now accurate figures for Switzerland: far more children are affected by this matter than thought.
When parents, siblings or grandparents become physically or mentally ill or even die, childhood stops being carefree. Children and young people often have to bear the brunt of jobs that are normally done by adults: caring for and looking after their relatives – and sometimes even taking on such care responsibilities as administering medications or giving infusions. In most cases, even their teachers do not know what they are doing on top of school and training.
Children, adolescents and young adults who are carers – known in the field as young carers and young adult carers – have been the central research topic of Prof. Agnes Leu and her team since 2014. Agnes Leu leads the “Young Carers” research programme at Careum Research, the research institute of the Department of Health Science at the Kalaidos University of Applied Sciences.
Initial figures thanks to surveys
Until now, there has been a lack of precise figures concerning how many children and young people are affected in Switzerland. Other countries have made better progress with research in this area. In Great Britain for example, the issue of children and young people as carers has been researched for more than 25 years now. Two major national online surveys are now delivering reliable data for Switzerland for the first time. In a nationwide online survey, children from 230 schools aged between 10 and 15 were canvassed. Until now, it has been assumed that the proportion of child carers in Switzerland is around four to five per cent – similar to other countries for which studies are already available. This figure now needs to be increased. Almost eight per cent of children and young people care for relatives, with slightly more girls than boys taking on this role.
In a further online survey, 3518 experts from the education, health and social sectors provided information about what they know about young carers and how often they come across children and young people with care responsibilities in a professional context. The results of the survey show that experts are still (too) unfamiliar with the phenomenon of young carers. However, after the concepts were explained to them in more detail, 40 per cent of those surveyed said that they have come across young people to whom this description applies in their everyday work. This is not surprising: young carers are inconspicuous in everyday life. They perceive their situation to be normal and never really accept help – at lot of the time because they are ashamed. For example, they often only attract attention at school when they suffer from a lack of concentration or sleep or if their performance at school starts to dwindle. In general, experts wanted more information and specialised further education courses in order to become more aware of and more attentive to children and young people affected by this issue.
These results are an important first step in drawing attention to the situation of young carers in Switzerland. Political and social measures are urgently needed to better support young carers in school, training and work in the future. That is why Careum has also made a commitment over the years to come: various national and international follow-up projects are researching this important issue and are developing possible solutions and ways of providing support.
Federal Council report
At a meeting held on 5 December 2014, as part of its “Health2020” health policy priorities, the Federal Council approved the “Report on supporting people looking after and caring for relatives”. The Federal Council makes it clear that the care and support of sick family members by relatives will become even more important in future, on account of demographic developments. In particular, this is because the Swiss healthcare system lacks the necessary personnel and money to be able to cover the increasing requirement with professional care. The Federal Council has therefore initiated various measures to support relatives and to promote the reconciliation of caring for relatives with work.
Postulation on children providing care
On 2 September 2015, the Federal Council expressed its view on a postulation by CVP National Councillor Barbara Schmid-Federer. She suggested a report be produced on the situation regarding minors caring for sick or disabled parents. This subject is actually mentioned in the report published on 5 December 2014. However, it is not elaborated. The Federal Council rejected the postulation, giving the reason that, as part of implementing the action plan for the support of relatives providing care and support, it would pay particular attention to the specific requirements of children and young people providing care and support