YOUNG carers are being bullied at school for looking after their sick and disabled relatives.
Research by the Carers Trust has found that two thirds of young people are singled out and nearly 40% suffer mental health problems as a result.
Cassie McCafferty is just 14 and cares for her mum Zoe who has MS. She says she has lost friends at school after being bullied because she wasn’t able to do things normal girls her age do.
Cassie said: “When I first started secondary school a group of girls found out that my mum wasn’t well and I looked after my whole family.
“They would take the mickey out of me because I had to go home to care for her. It does upset you, but mum and my family need me and I have to be strong for them and ignore the bullies.”
While the average teen spends 17.5 hours a week online, a young carer spends 19 hours a week supporting their loved one.
Cassie added: “ I know I’m not like girls my age who are interested in Instagram, Facebook and fashion but mum being poorly has taught me to value what is happening in my own life, not what’s going on online.”
Mum Zoe is so proud of her daughter too. She’s a Mayor Cadet, helps with the local Brownies and Guides and won the Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award recently even though she spends most of her time looking after her mum.
Zoe said: “Everyone who meets Cassie says what a credit to me she is. Not only does she help me, she also helps her sister Kylie, who is 18, with her new baby too.
“I do feel sad she doesn’t have the same upbringing as other girls her age, but I hope the closeness we have as a family is a consolation for her.”
Jeremy Todd of Anti-Bullying charity Bullying UK said: “It’s heartbreaking that this is happening to young people like Cassie who are carrying out such an important role in their families, something most of us only experience much later in life, in our 40s and 50s when our parents are elderly.
“Bullies look for something that differs from their own lives in their victims, and in this case it is someone with huge responsibility and heartache at home, who may not be able to go out and live as they do, and because they can’t understand what that would be like they articulate this by bullying them.
“It’s terribly sad, but young people in Cassie’s position need to know there is help out there and that they don’t need to shut themselves away.”
I interviewed Zoe and Cassie for Closer magazine and they were so inspired by their story that they treated the mum and daughter to a day out at London Zoo.