By Paul Bibby
SEBASTIAN Belmonte was really looking forward to the Royal Easter Show.
For the 11-year-old Sydneysider fun things like the show are extra special because he doesn’t get to do stuff like that much.
Sebastian’s mum is sick a lot and he helps look after her. He cleans up the house, gets his own breakfast, and makes his mum smile if she’s feeling sad.
That means sometimes he needs to stay at home instead of going out.
“You just want to try and help because they’re the most important person in your life,” says Sebastian. “I still love doing fun stuff though.”
Small things make a big difference
There are thousands of kids around Australia who help care for a parent, brother or sister who is disabled or sick a lot.
Sometimes they have to do a lot, such as cooking and housework and make sure their sick family member has a shower and takes their medication.
But a lot of the time they do small things that make a big difference.
“There are about 150,000 kids under 18 caring for their parents or siblings in Australia,” says Danielle Ballantine, the head of Northside, an organisation in Sydney that supports young carers.
“Sometimes mum or dad has a mental illness like depression or anxiety, or they might have a physical disability,” she says.
“In other cases it might be a brother or sister.
“Kids will often be a bit like an assistant … They might also do a lot of things for themselves that parents normally do … like cooking their own meals, washing clothes, organising things.”
Ups and downs of caring
Being a young carer has its good and down sides.
“They have to grow up faster than other kids,” says Sebastian’s mother, Sarah.
“Sebastian is dealing with emotions that some kids don’t have to think about till they’re older. It’s so wonderful the way he’s dealt with that.”
But there are good sides too.
“They’re really great at being aware of other people’s feelings and their needs,” says Ms Ballantine. “They also learn a lot of very practical skills which are useful for the rest of their lives.”
Time for a break
Organisations such as Northside come to young carers’ homes so they can have a break. And if he or she has to miss school it pays for a tutor to help them catch up.
Northside also organises fun activities such as picnics, and trips to laser tag and the Easter show.
Ms Ballantine says: “If [young carers] are sad or a bit depressed give them the support they need to keep caring.
“Be understanding if they can’t come to an activity and make sure you keep inviting them.”
Sebastian says: “I just think that if everyone just cared for each other a little bit more the world would be a better place.”