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Little Dreamers urges young carers to have a voice in this year’s census

Meet Madeleine Buchner, the Founder and CEO of Little Dreamers Australia, an organisation that aims to improve the lives of Australia’s young carers.

Buchner, who has been a young carer for both her ill brother and mother since she was a young child, was first inspired to launch the charity at just nine years of age after wondering why nobody was ever there to support her. Fast-forward to 2009 and Little Dreamers was born, the charity now supports over 500 young carers.

Buchner recently launched the ‘Tick the Box’ online campaign, which encourages young carers to tick the box in this year’s Census. Buchner hopes to get a more accurate understanding of the true number of young carers in Australia.

The 2011 Census identified 115,000 young carers (those 26 years and under who look after a family member at home). However, Carers Victoria identified approximately 420,000 in this category, which equates to 1 in 10 young people.

Third Sector interviewed Buchner to find out more about this campaign, the stigma around being a young carer and creating a charity at such a young age.

TS: Why do you think there is a stigma around being a young carer?

MB: I believe there is definitely still a stigma in Australia around disability, mental illness, chronic illnesses and addiction.

I think that this notion can be extended to young carers as many people are often ashamed to admit that there is a problem at home … they would rather suffer in silence than acknowledge the issue. I often talk to young carers and many admit that they rarely talk about their carer role with extended family members, friends or school teachers, despite feeling stressed and depressed at times.

It’s a sad reality, but it often becomes a secret isolated world in which they are left to manage the daily struggles alone. As with mental illness, I think the key to removing the stigma is simply talking about it more. Young carers should be celebrated for the integral role that they play within their family and therefore feel comfortable asking for additional help when required.

TS: What are you hoping to achieve from this campaign?

MB: Our hope is to increase the awareness of the ‘existence’ of young carers and break down the barriers around talking about being a young carer. We would also like an increase in the number of people who tick ‘YES’ to Question 49 about being a young carer in Australia.

 

TS: Why do you think young carers are forgotten about? Does the government do anything to help them?

MB: In February 2016 the Australian Child Wellbeing Project listed young carers as one of the four most marginalised groups in Australia. I believe that young carers are often one of the most overlooked groups [as many say] they ‘don’t have anything wrong with them’.

The reality is that young carers have a high risk of developing a mental illness, high rate of poverty and a high education dropout rate. The government has introduced the Young Carer Bursary Programme; however, there are only 333 bursaries available and this does very little to impact the 420,000 young carers approximately living in Australia today.

TS: How did you create a charity at such a young age? 

MB: I had a lot of help from my parents when I was younger. I still get a lot of help from them as they are incredibly passionate about the charity following our own personal family experience.

I think the success of the charity can be largely attributed to the desire for change – I knew the situation wasn’t fair and I knew that I wasn’t the only one in this kind of situation. For example, like many children who are unwell there was always help and assistance for my brother, but there was no support network for me. In the end, it came down to how passionate I was about the cause – anything is possible when you have the passion and drive behind it.

TS: What are your plans and hopes for the next year for Little Dreamers?

MB: We are moving towards a very exciting new model designed to support young carers on a more permanent basis – the new initiative is set to launch early next year. I would also like our Young Carers Festival to be a national event as oppose to taking place only in Victoria.

My ultimate dream is to make Little Dreamers an international organisation. This is something we are constantly working towards and hope to achieve in the not too distant future.

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