As I walked my just turned 11 year old daughter home from school I asked her about her day. She seemed a little down and withdrawn and more quiet than usual.
It wasn’t until after dinner that she began to talk to me.
I asked if she had any homework and she dropped her head and went quiet.
I wondered if she had something in her bag that she didn’t want me to see or whether something had been said to her or she had been given a row by her teacher.
As I pulled out her homework folder and sat beside her she slowly began to open up.
Quietly she said: ‘Mum we’ve to think about what we want to do when we are older.’
I looked at the note in her homework diary and it simply read ‘we are working on a research project about our future careers. Please talk with your child about what they would like to do and what they might need to do to achieve this.’
I still didn’t know why my daughter was so sad so I plainly asked her: ‘What would you like to do when you are older then Naomi?’
With tears filling her eyes she answered emotionally, but boldly:
“Care for my disabled brother.”
She then told me what had happened at school:
‘Mum, the teacher asked us to write down what we wanted to do when we are older. I wrote down ‘care for my disabled brother.’
One of the other children in my group saw what I had written and laughed. He said that wasn’t a proper job and that made me sad.
We then had to use google and find out how much our job would pay. I typed in ‘what is a carer paid’ and wrote down the answer.
I remember it was £66 something a week but then I looked at what everyone else had written and that made me sad again.
Next we had to look at what qualifications we needed for our job. I found out to care for my brother I don’t need anything at all but I thought that must be wrong. It said I didn’t need to go to college or university and all the others did and that didn’t feel good.’
Still very tearful she talked about her twin brother and how he can’t talk at 11, how he can’t use the toilet yet, can’t read or write and how he had had major surgery for a brain tumour and how she helped him get better.
We talked about all the skills needed to look after someone as complex as her brother and how intensive this was at times.
She fully understands that he will always require 24 hour care all his life and how important it is that he is kept safe and well.
She already, at just 11, knew how important it was he had the right medicine at the right time and that he should never be left in the bath in case he had a seizure and had to be supervised when eating in case he choked.
I have never asked her to be his carer nor have I ever suggested she should aspire to be this when she leaves school.
She wants to do it because she’s extremely close to him and adores him so much. If this is what she wants to do then I support her unconditionally because, unfortunately, I won’t live for ever and that’s a fact.
With tears in her eyes and red cheeks she lifted her head and looked at me.
‘Mum, why don’t people care about carers like you? Why are they paid so little and don’t need any qualifications? It doesn’t seem right to me.’
It doesn’t seem right to an 11 year old because it isn’t right.
It doesn’t just make my daughter feel sad it makes me feel so very sad too.
Why are those who care 24/7 for the most vulnerable in our society treated so poorly?
It really shouldn’t be like this at all.