Our new generation of forgotten carers
THOUSANDS of "kidult carers'' are struggling to raise younger brothers, sisters and cousins after parents die or abandon them, a disturbing new report reveals.
National Children's Commissioner Megan Mitchell, who will launch the report in Brisbane today, said teenagers and young adults often missed out on government support to raise their siblings.
"They really make a lot of sacrifices,'' she told The Courier-Mail.
"They put their education on hold, and there's a lot of financial hardship associated with raising a child.
"However they are often excluded from any form of government support.
"They're really stepping up for society and need to be recognised and supported, but they're not well supported and don't really know about their rights and entitlements.''
The report, We're Just Kids as Well, calls on the federal and state governments to give siblings the same rights and benefits as grandparents to care for children without parents.
University of Melbourne researchers interviewed dozens of kidults, from their teens to their 20s, who took over parenting of little brothers and sisters.
Some had drug-addicted or violent parents, while others were orphaned.
"The carers displayed maturity beyond their years,'' the report says.
One carer told the researchers she struggled to pay for school fees, camps and excursions for younger siblings.
Half the carers had to drop out of school or university, and some had to quit work, to care for little brothers and sisters.
PeakCare, the lobby group for child protection in Queensland, yesterday estimated that 12,000 kids are being cared for by relatives across the state.
"They are doing it alone and doing it tough,'' PeakCare executive director Lindsay Wegener said yesterday.
"Were it not for relatives stepping in to care for these children, most would end up in the care of the state.
"Young carers usually don't have the financial and other supports available to parents, foster carers and grandparent carers.''
Brisbane bank worker Jess Maude was just 23 when she took in her eight-year-old half-brother and 11-year-old half-sister.
Six years later, her sister is finishing Year 12 while her brother has left to live with his father.
"I was 23 when my mum passed away suddenly, and I had to pick the kids up from school,'' she told The Courier-Mail.
"I didn't know how to get in touch with their different fathers.
"Two or three weeks after the kids came, I did call Child Safety and told them I didn't know what were the grounds to be a kinship carer.
"Child Safety just said, 'Well they're your responsibility, you made a choice to pick them up, if you feel like you can't look after them, you can drop them off to our office or to the police station'.
"That just was not going to happen - we all lost our mum and there's no way I would do that.''
Ms Maude, who recently married, said she had to quit her full-time job to care for the children while working casual jobs in retail.
A Child Safety spokeswoman said that the department only intervened when there is no parent, relative or carer able or willing to care for children.
"Where there is a willing or able parent, relative or carer, financial support for people caring for children outside of the statutory state-based child protection system comes from the Federal Government," she said.
"Payments that families may be eligible for include family tax benefit, double orphan pensions and some hardship payments."