The American Association of Caregiving Youth, launched in 2006 by a former caregiver, is working to shine a light on a situation that’s more common than you might imagine, in which adolescents and young adults must care for a disabled or sick parent or loved one.
Generally, kids are the ones cared for, either by parents or by other loved ones.
But occasionally, the equation flips, and an adolescent or a young adult must care for a parent who is disabled or a grandparent who is in the throes of old age. It is a lot to take on and can put basic household-management tasks in the hands of someone barely old enough to process what’s happening.
Very fortunately, there’s an association to help these adolescents in this situation. The American Association of Caregiving Youth (AACY), a group started in 2006 as the Caregiving Youth Project, has been working with local schools in Palm Beach County, Florida, to help identify and offer assistance to students who have had to take on the challenging task of caregiving.
Founder Connie Siskowski, RN, says that she was inspired to start the group after dealing with a similar situation on her own. At the age of 11, her parents divorced. Not long after, she went to stay with her grandparents. She was especially close to her grandfather and helped with his care.
“I slept in the living room so I could be near him in case he needed something during the night. One night I went into the bedroom to give him his medicine, and I found him dead of cardiac disease,” Siskowski told The New York Times.
Siskowski was just 13. The situation caused a number of challenges in her personal life that followed her into adulthood, something she finally addressed with the help of counseling. Siskowski, after founding AACY, was named one of CNN’s Heroes in 2012.
Siskowski’s childhood tale isn’t unique or even unusual. According to the American Psychological Association, around 1.4 million children between the ages of 8 and 18 are thrust into a position of caregiving, with nearly half saying that they spend “a lot of time” doing so.
“We, as adults, are supposed to be taking care of children,” Siskowski told U.S. News and World Report last year. “They’re not supposed to be taking care of us. What goes on behind closed doors nobody really knows.”
AACY currently helps out 1,100 caregivers at 17 schools around south Palm Beach County, helping the students until they graduate from high school by offering resources such as computers, printers, in-home tutors, and a community to connect with as they try to balance school and the challenging work of caregiving.
“The kids feel valued; they learn what love is, and it flips the anger and frustration they may otherwise feel,” Siskowski told the Times.