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The Forgotten Group: Young Caregivers in Canada

CBS

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May 31, 2017

When it comes to talking about the caregiving landscape in Canada, young caregivers are often overlooked. Typically, we think of “the sandwich generation,” or people who are tasked with balancing care for a senior loved one with care for younger children. However according to Statistics Canada, in 2012 Canada had 1.9 million young carers (between ages 15 and 29) who were helping care for grandparents or family members with a health condition or disability*.

According to The Vanier Institute of the Family, young caregivers spend on average a few hours or less per week caring for others, a similar amount of time as those in the 45 to 54 year old age range. There is also a small group of young caregivers caring an average of 30 hours for others. And nearly 1 in 5 (19%) of young caregivers report caring for three or more people**. Not only are there many young people providing care to loved ones, but they also invest a significant amount of time to the cause.

The addition of caretaking duties can take a toll on young caregivers, as they try to manage other commitments such as paid work and school. Statistics Canada  found that 1 in 5 carers enrolled in school said their studies have been affected by caregiving responsibilities. And for young carers who work, more than one-third reported that caregiving responsibilities caused them to arrive at work late, leave early or take time off. And a further 12% said they had to reduce their weekly work hours. For someone making minimum wage and working part-time, missing any amount of work causes financial strain.

Furthermore, since many are unaware of the large number of young caregivers, their struggles and needs may not be fully understood. The majority of policies and support systems currently in place, such as the caregiver credit and Compassionate Care Benefit, have been developed for working adults. Unfortunately these programs tend to fall short of supporting young caregivers, as the challenges they experience are different from their older counterparts.

Young caregivers are at a stage in their lives where every choice they make has an impact on their future. Taking on the role of caregiver may delay important life events such as graduating, promotions, buying a home, marriage, and having children.

Since there are many benefits to be gained from caring for others, providing young caregivers with the support they need is important. Early experiences with caregiving can help provide a sense of purpose or direction for the future. It also develops empathy towards elders, a group they might otherwise have difficulty relating to. Finally, caring for others teaches valuable skills that can’t be taught in a classroom.

Although it has its challenges, caregiving is an enriching experience for youth that strengthens relationships, adds meaning and purpose to their lives, and helps to develop lifelong skills. It’s important to understand the special challenges young caregivers face to help develop systems and policies that will support them in caring for others now and in the future.

* Statistics Canada, Young Canadians Providing Care,” Spotlight on Canadians: (September 2014)

** Andrea Breen, “It’s Time to Care for Our (Young) Carers,” 

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