Suffolk: 12-year-old Claire “shoulders the burden” of caring for sister

Claire cares for her sister, Anne

Claire cares for her sister, Anne - Credit: Ashley Pickering

Last month, the Office for National Statistics released statistics which laid bare the health effects of being an unpaid carer.

Claire (centre) is pictured with brother Marc, mum Isabelle, dad Jim and sister Anne

Claire (centre) is pictured with brother Marc, mum Isabelle, dad Jim and sister Anne - Credit: Ashley Pickering

It found that young carers in particular were struggling more than other age groups with the responsibility of providing care for free and were almost five times more likely to suffer from ill health than their non-carer counterparts.

Here, Lauren Everitt tells the story of one family who has benefitted from the support of charity Suffolk Family Carers.laire loves fashion, dancing and listening to pop music. But sadly this is where her similarity to other carefree 12 year olds ends.

This is because Claire, from Capel St Mary, is a young carer and spends several hours every day looking after members of her family.

And the pressure has got so immense that now the brave girl is also battling an eating disorder which started when she was just eight and is believed to have been sparked by the stress she is under.

Her mother Isabelle said: “Claire has had to grow up a lot more quickly than most kids and take on tasks that are well beyond her years.

“In an ideal world no child would have such anxiety and it breaks my heart that she is shouldering this burden.”

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Claire helps care for her older sister Anne, 15, who suffers from autism.

Anne won’t let people touch her and needs daily medication to control violent outbursts and manic behaviour.

Claire has also taken on extra responsibilities since her brother Marc, 17, was diagnosed with glandular fever, a condition which causes extreme fatigue, and her mother was put on medication for depression.

But despite everything, Claire, who receives support from the charity Suffolk Family Carers, remains upbeat and has kept her sense of humour.

She said: “I love my family and they need me but I do get a break sometimes.

“I love playing piano and I like chatting to friends.

“I hope when I am older I can train to be a lawyer because I love arguing and think I’m probably quite good at it.”

Claire’s father Jim works as a software developer and commutes from the family home into London each day and her mother works as a special needs teacher.

This means Claire carries out many of the household tasks as well as supporting her mother in the care of her siblings.

Isabelle, whose extended family lives in France and are not able to help, said: “Caring is a juggling act and I try to do the lion’s share but inevitably Claire picks up the slack.

“Claire does everything with a smile on her face but she hides an awful lot from us.

“I started to notice changes in her weight and behaviour when she was eight.

“She was eating very small portions and refused to eat completely if her sister was not happy or playing up.

“Part of it was a cry for help and the rest was an attempt to take some control over her life.

“We try to ensure she gets time away from Anne whenever possible and gets the medical help she needs to get well.”

Last year Claire’s BMI dropped to 14, well below the healthy level, and her doctor referred her for therapy and treatment with a dietician.

She is now starting to gain weight and confidence.

She has also benefitted from the support of Suffolk Family Carers, a charity which has been supporting carers for 25 years.

Recently she took part in the charity’s Rock School, an event to help foster talent in music.

Claire said: “Suffolk Family Carers understand what I am going through and give me a chance to relax away from my family.

“I don’t know how I would cope without them.”

Keiron Whall, young carer’s coordinator for the charity said: “Like many young carers, Claire needs the help and reassurance of others in a similar situation.

“We offer her a chance to meet friends, try new things and take time away from home.

“It’s vital young carers access support.

“Recent research suggests caring takes a terrible toll on the health of young people and it’s our aim to ease that pressure.”