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The experience of young carers in the context of a range of parental conditions: physical disability, mental health problems and substance misuse.

Christie, Emma


Emma Christie


John G. Love

Julian Bell


The current study set out to explore the affect and significance of differing parental conditions on the experiences commonly reported by young carers. Previous studies on young caring have reflected on the impacts of caring for parents with particular `types' of conditions (normally physical disability or mental health problems) or a specific diagnosis. However, these have not contrasted or discriminated young carers' experiences according to different parental conditions. To address this gap in knowledge, the current study considered the experiences of young carers supporting parents with different `types' of conditions, namely physical disability, mental health problems and substance misuse. The participants discussed the impact of caring on a range of areas such as their education, social life, health, spatial transitions, relationships and role reversals. Additionally, definitional issues were considered. This included young carers own understanding and subscription to the term `young carer' and the significance of this to their identification. In terms of methodology, the study was firmly grounded within the qualitative domain and influenced by a constructive-interpretive paradigm, specifically symbolic interactionism. Within this, the grounded theory approach was used insofar as it provided a method to conduct the study. A range of data-collection techniques were employed. Semi-structured interviewing was the principal method used, with additional data gathered through a self-esteem tool, observations and diaries. The sample consisted of 30 young carers. The results showed firstly that the participants did not necessarily comprehend the term `young carer' or apply it to their own caring roles at home. Arguably, this contributed to their `hidden-ness' (i. e. invisibility) and as a result their needs were overlooked. The need for a new definition which embraces their understandings, together with appropriate awareness-raising programmes within schools and for key social care and health professionals was evidenced and called for. Secondly, whilst the participants shared common experiences regardless of the nature of the parental condition, other issues reported were specific to particular situations. Those most adversely affected were caring in the contexts of parental substance misuse or parental mental health problems. Such young carers were dually disadvantaged, as they experienced the most extreme difficulties, yet their caring roles and needs were least likely to be addressed. The experiential differences reported by young carers in different caring contexts have important practice implications. Nevertheless, the extent to which the experiences reported could be wholly attributed to the caring role, rather than other structural and socio-economic factors was questionable.


CHRISTIE, E. 2006. The experience of young carers in the context of a range of parental conditions: physical disability, mental health problems and substance misuse. Robert Gordon University, PhD thesis.

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Feb 11, 2010
Publicly Available Date Feb 11, 2010
Keywords Young carer; Impacts of young carer; Physical disability; Substance misuse; Mental health problem; Hiddenness; Parentification
Public URL
Award Date Dec 31, 2006


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