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Extraordinary courage of the ‘hidden’ young carers

Who Cares, a powerful, heartbreaking drama, tells the stories of young people forced to take on adult roles in their families

04 February, 2021 — By Lucy Popescu

ACCORDING to Carers Trust, there are around 700,000 young carers in the UK, aged 18 or under, who look after someone with a disability, mental illness or addiction. Some 70 per cent are “hidden” – they care for people behind closed doors, unknown to anyone outside their own home.

Matt Woodhead’s urgent verbatim drama, Who Cares, tells the story of three young carers forced to adopt adult roles in their families. Based on over 100 hours of interviews, the play opened at the Lowry Theatre in 2016 and toured the UK, prompting many “hidden” young carers to come forward and receive support. Hopefully, Toby Swift’s radio production will further its reach.

Jade (Jessica Temple) looks after her brother, Will, who is profoundly deaf with learning difficulties. When she is eight, her father has a motorbike accident and ends up paralysed in a wheelchair. After her mother leaves with a boyfriend, Jade is left in charge.

Nicole (Lizzie Mounter) is at playgroup when her mum has a stroke outside the school gates, losing her speech and partial mobility. Nicole effectively starts caring from the age of four. She describes her devastation, a few years later, when the authorities stop her mum’s disability allowance, claiming she’s “fit for work”.

Connor (Luke Grant) cares for his mother who spirals into alcohol abuse after his dad leaves her. When Connor is eight, she is hospitalised. His dad returns and his mother is identified as bipolar. She lives with them, still damaged – “her body healthy, but her mind on fire.” After his father collapses and is diagnosed with fibromyalgia, Connor ends up caring for both parents.

By overlapping their accounts, Woodhead highlights the anger, stress and anxiety that the three share. They have to cope with school work, and are often pulled up by their teachers for being late or failing to complete homework. They navigate doctor’s surgeries, remember to pick up medication and prepare meals.

Who Cares powerfully demonstrates the various ways the authorities are failing these young people. It’s a heartbreaking listen, but one that also reveals extraordinary courage.

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