What Doesn't Kill Us

The new psychology of posttraumatic growth

Young Carers

Are there benefits in caring?

A young carer is someone aged 18 or under who helps to look after a relative who suffers from mental or physical condition. The majority of young carers look after a parent or a sibling. They do jobs in and around the home, such as cooking, cleaning, or helping someone to get dressed and move around.

Not surprisingly caring can be extremely stressful, difficult and tiring. Research has shown that young carers can develop social and psychological problems. Their school work can suffer. Friendships may be affected. Opportunities for leisure activities are often restricted.

Research also shows that young carers can find benefits in the experience too. For example, it can lead to the development of resilience, increased self-knowledge and maturity.

Such an observation is not surprising given what we now know about posttraumatic growth.

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But until recently researchers and practitioners in the field of caring had not taken this into account. In response my colleagues and I developed a new set of self-report tools with which researchers and practitioners can assess both the positive and negative outcomes of caring.

The Positive and Negative Outcomes of Caring (PANOC) is a 20-item questionnaire developed for use with young carers.

Example items from the questionnaire are below. For each the young person is asked to rate how frequently it is true for them.

Some items are negatively worded to understand the difficulties young people have:

• Because of caring I feel stressed

• Because of caring I feel very lonely

• Because of caring I feel like I can’t cope

• Because of caring I have trouble staying awake

Other items are worded positively to capture the ways in which caring can be beneficial:

• Because of caring I feel I am doing something good

• Because of caring I feel closer to my family

• Because of caring I feel good about myself

• Because of caring I feel that I am learning useful things

Practitioners may find the measure useful in assessing the impact of caring. For example, practitioners could use the tools to help young people reflect on the benefits they have accrued from their experiences.

Young carers themselves may also find the measures useful.

For those interested in learning more the manual for the measure can be downloaded free from:

http://www.aacy.org/publications/caringactivitiesandoutcomemanual...

 

Stephen Joseph, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology, health, and social care at the University of Nottingham, UK, and author of What Doesn't Kill Us.

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