Young Carers in Canada: The Hidden Costs and Benefits of Young Caregiving

This report was published by The Vanier Institute of the Family.

There are times when adults in Canadian families are unable to care for themselves or provide care for others due to illness, injury or disability. As a result, they need help with daily activities, ranging from the basics such as eating, dressing or taking medications to the more complex tasks of financial planning and navigating the health care system. Typically, another adult in the family will step in to help fulfill the responsibilities of parenting, caregiving, and household management. In cases where adults are unavailable, young family members may be required to take on the role as primary caregiver well before it would normally be expected.

Research conducted with high school students in Vancouver has found that 12% of youth aged 12 to 17 identify as young carers. These young Canadians play an increasingly essential role in the maintenance of family and community wellbeing. They fill in caregiving gaps and help meet the needs of family members recovering from illness or injury, managing a chronic, episodic or progressive health condition or mental illness, or at the end of life.

Until very recently, young caring has been an invisible feature of the family caregiving landscape. The voice of young carers, their needs and those of their families have been largely missing from the national dialogue on family wellbeing. Researchers, advocates, practitioners, and young carers are breaking this silence. A more accurate portrait of young caring is emerging that tells the story of opportunity gained and lost at the individual, family, community, and societal levels.

Early caregiving is not always easy or desirable, but it can be an incredible opportunity to build closeness and connection across generations. It can lead to feelings of pride and competence as youth develop new skills and awareness, and it can foster empathy and compassion during difficult times.

The costs and consequences of young caring can also be heavy. Some young carers undertake high levels of care. Often learning as they go, young carers are vulnerable to stress, anxiety, and social isolation. The demands of young caring typically come at a time when youth are facing the challenges of adolescence, completing school, entering the labour market, and making important decisions about their own futures. Many young carers trade time with friends, at school or on their own for the responsibilities of early caregiving. These youth risk failing to acquire the skills and education necessary for future success and wellbeing.

A strategic approach to supporting young carers and their families begins with an increased understanding of the unique place and status young carers hold within a system of family and adult care. Building awareness and developing supports and resources at the family and community levels, in schools and universities and colleges, and in the workplace will help mitigate the potentially adverse consequences of caring on young carers and their families.

Charles, G., Stainton, T., & Marshall, S. (2012). Young Carers in Canada: The Hidden Costs and Benefits of Young Caregiving. Ottawa, ON: The Vanier Institute of the Family. Retrieved from

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