Kids as caregivers

1.4 million youth are providing hands-on care for a family member.

November 20, 2017 - Author: Shannon Lindquist, Michigan State University Extension

Research conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving estimates over 1.4 million youth, ages 8 – 18 are taking care of ill, injured, elderly or disabled family members. They are taking care of parents, grandparents and siblings and dealing with the most prevalent conditions; Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, heart, lung or kidney diseases, arthritis and diabetes.

What kind of care are they providing?

Kids are not just performing day-to-day household chores such as laundry, dishes, vacuuming and fixing simple meals; they are handing out medications, bathing, dressing, toileting and feeding family members. Some are responsible for communicating with health care providers.

While it may seem inappropriate for kids to take on caregiving duties, changes in family structures such as single parent homes, grandparents raising grandchildren, increase in the number of older people and multi-generation households. Healthcare delivery has also changed; home visits have decreased and an increase of care is becoming the responsibility of families instead of hospitals and doctor offices.

Why are kids in the role of caregiver?

Not everyone agrees that a child should be in the role of a family caregiver. However, changes in family structure and how healthcare is delivered impacts children: There are more single parents as well as multi-generation households, with grandparents raising grandchildren. Economic hardships also play a part in multi-generation households with married adults returning home with children. Regarding healthcare, medical facilities are no longer providing complex care. Instead, it is being done at home by family members. Adults may be identified as the primary caregiver but due to job obligations, children end up providing care.

How do caregiving responsibilities affect these kids?

While very little research has been done on kids as caregivers, what is known affects every area of a child’s life:

  • School: tardiness, missed days, incomplete assignments, no participation in after-school programming, poor behavior and dropping-out
  • Emotionally: anxiety, depression, grief, feelings of being overwhelmed and
  • Socially: loss of social activities and friendships
  • Physically: exhausted, lethargic and lack of interest in appearance

Children have the coping skills of children and are not equipped to handle this stressful role.  

What can we do to help youth caregivers?

Bring awareness to our communities that kids are in this role. Provide resource information for kids in our schools, churches and libraries. Start a local coalition. Every caregiver needs and deserves support. For information on youth caregivers visit the American Association of Caregiving Youth: or call 800-508-9618 or 561-391-7401 for direct assistance. The AACY website has suggestions and links that can help families, professionals and school-based staff to assist caregiving kids.

Visit the Michigan State University Extension website for additional information related to caregiving.

Tags: caregiving, chronic disease, family, food & health, healthy relationships, managing relationships, msu extension

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