Young carers across the region are faced with the daily challenge of balancing childhood with their responsibilities as a carer.

Stuart Smith is one such carer.

The nine-year old, from Thorney Close, is raising awareness for fellow young carers throughout the community and helping to shine a light on the support offered by Sunderland Carers Centre.

Stuart said: “I help care for my older sister, Heather. I help her with homework and with colouring in – I help her with maths on the computer too. Heather’s older than me, but her learning age is younger, so I can help with school work. Sometimes it’s just little things like helping her tie her shoes, I do lots of different things for her.”

Heather has complex needs which require extra support – including autism, delayed educational problems and myotonic dystrophy, a long term genetic disorder that affects muscle function.

Stuart attends the Sunderland Carers ‘Young Carers Group’ in Southwick every Saturday, where he and other young carers have the chance to unwind and relax, spending time out from their caring role.

Stuart said: “I go to the Saturday club every week, which I really like. We get to go on the bouncy castle and we play British bulldog outside, and football. There are softballs there for all of us to play dodgeball too. We also do lots of arts and crafts, and make things like aeroplanes and kites.

“Because I’m a young carer, I get to go out more and explore more. I get to do lots of things, things that I didn’t know I could do.”

The Young Carers Group arranges activities and days out for young carers across the region – their activities are adapted to suit a range of ages, building confidence and life skills whilst also having fun. Sunderland Carers Centre also provides one-to-one support and advocacy to young carers – the support available varies for each caring and family situation.

Michelle, Stuart’s mam, said: “Stuart is really great at looking after Heather and helping out in the house. He has a lot to balance with caring, school and all the clubs he does, but he handles everything so well.

“Both Stuart and his sister, Laura, have really benefitted from going to the Young Carers Group. I’m really proud that’s Stuart setting a good example and will hopefully help other youngsters realise that there is support out there for them.”

Sue Callaghan, Young Carers Activity Lead, said: “Stuart is a great ambassador for young carers in the community. He’s really thrived in our Young Carers Group and is a real credit to his family. He, along with his sister Laura, are always happy to talk about caring for Heather, and are brilliant at helping to raise awareness for young carers.

“At the carers centre we provide support for carers across the spectrum – and a big part of that is to ensure that young carers are gaining the support and advice that they need. It’s a challenging balance for young people – between caring, school and having fun – and we are here to help young carers, like Stuart, get the balance right.”

Graham Burt, chief executive of Sunderland Carers Centre, said: “Young carers often look after people in very challenging conditions, and like Stuart, their role often involves looking after siblings. It’s important for us that young carers in the community acknowledge their position as a carer and know that the support is here for them.

“It’s important that the carers centre offers support and guidance to these young carers, but that is also provides a place for young carers to relax and have fun. The young carers group is a great environment for young carers across Sunderland to get together and unwind – to share their stories, gather advice and form friendships.”

A young carer is a child between 5-16 who looks after someone in their family who has a long-term illness, disability, mental ill health or substance misuse problems that impacts on that young person. This may mean taking on responsibilities, emotional and/or practical support that would normally be expected of an adult.

As well as offering guidance and emotional support to young carers, Sunderland Carers Centre also injects some added fun into the lives of young carers – with events, activities, days out and clubs.