WHEN Angel Phiri hangs out with pals at her youth group - setting off on a trip, playing games, listening to music or just having a chat - she knows she’s not alone.

Like Angel, they are young all carers. And, thanks to Shipley-based charity Carers Resource, they can take time out for themselves and have fun; enjoying what most children take for granted.

Angel, 11, thinks the world of her little brother, Ayden, but there are times when she needs her own space. Ayden, six, has autism and his often challenging behaviour means Angel has to help her mother, Elsie, look after him in their Silsden home.

“If we go out, everything is arranged around Ayden because he requires so much attention,” says Elsie. “It reached the point where Angel wasn’t getting enough time to herself, to enjoy her childhood. She wasn’t happy with family life.”

Angel is one of around 85,000 children in the region who are carers in their home. A young carer is anyone under the age of 18 who looks after a parent or sibling who has a physical or mental illness, a disability, or misuses drugs or alcohol.

Angel helps her mum to calm Ayden down, and to get him to sleep at night, and she helps with jobs around the home. “Angel is close to Ayden and he often responds more to her,” says Elsie. “She gets to know what it is that he wants, and she helps me settle him. If he can’t sleep, she goes and sleep beside him. She’s a big help to me, I don’t know what I would do without her.”

Elsie says that family trips out, even to the shops or for a bite to eat, can be problematic: “Ayden is unpredictable; if we’re in the supermarket he picks up toys and throws them around, or he wants to go in the trolley then he throws things out of it. If we go for something to eat, he screams and throws himself onto the floor. He tries to open car doors when the car is moving. Sometimes we have to come home, because it’s so difficult.”

Elsie discovered Ayden was autistic when he was nearly three. She finds herself torn between her son, and all the demands that come with an autistic child, and her daughter, whose support she relies on. “Dealing with Ayden is constant. If he’s in a bad mood he starts screaming and throwing things around the house. It is very difficult to calm him down. Having that extra pair of hands is essential for me, but I knew it wasn’t isn’t fair on Angel,” says Elsie. “She would say, ‘How come I don’t get to go out?’”

It was through Angel’s school that the young family finally got some support. “They would often get Angel to help settle Ayden down, and they spoke to us about the caring she was doing at home,” says Elsie. “It was clear she wasn’t getting enough alone time, or spending time with other children. They referred us to Carers Resource and she started going to a youth club where she has got to know other carers.

“It has made a big difference to Angel. She knows she is not alone, and that there are other young people out there who are doing what she does.”

For Angel, the youth group gives her some leisure time - not as a carer or a big sister, just as herself.

“I used to feel very sad. I couldn’t get any time to myself at home,” says Angel, a pupil at South Craven School. “I help my mum, I do cleaning round the house and spend time with Ayden. Sometimes it’s hard, so I really enjoy the group. I go every week, and in the summer holidays. We talk and play board games, sometimes we just listen to each other. We go on trips and residentials as well. Last summer we went to Wales for two days, and we’ve been to Flamingo Land. It’s good because we all know each other, and we have fun together.”

Elsie says Angel is thriving, thanks to the group. “She has more time to herself, she enjoys the activities and trips, and that makes her feel better. She is more understanding of Ayden, more tolerant and patient. It’s been amazing,” says Elsie.

“If it wasn’t for the school, we wouldn’t know about the young carers group. There must be a lot of families out there struggling to cope - they need to know there is help available.”

Carers Resource has sent posters to more than 200 schools in the Bradford district to raise awareness of what it means to be a young carer and what support there is. The posters were distributed to mark Young Carers Awareness Day last month, when the charity’s young carer team held an awareness stand and bucket collection in the Broadway shopping centre.

Helen Prince, Carers Resource head of development for young carers and their families, said: “We’re currently working with more than 280 young carers in the Bradford district. These young people often have to carry out tasks and chores that their peers would not encounter.

“They often miss out on opportunities and a normal childhood, either due to their caring responsibilities or because their family’s time, resources and attention is directed towards the cared-for person.

“Young carers might carry out tasks such as getting someone out of bed, getting someone dressed, cooking, housework, shopping, managing the family budget, arranging medical care, and giving emotional support to someone who is distressed.”

She adds: “Our free youth clubs give young carers chance to meet and have a break from caring. Our staff also give one-to-one support and mentoring for those young people who need it. We run activities and trips during school holidays, so young carers can enjoy a normal childhood for a few days, without having to think about other people.”

It is thought that one in 12 children is a young carer, with just under 85,000 in Yorkshire. Carers Resource says these young people have significantly lower educational attainment at GCSE level - the equivalent to nine grades lower overall than their peers - and two-thirds report they have been bullied at school.

Says Helen: “Most young carers are proud of what they do to help their loved one, and we’re proud of them too. We work with talented, kind, inspiring individuals. Our aim is to help them overcome these statistics and reach their potential. To do that, it’s important that young carers receive the specialist support they need, which is why we’re asking schools to ‘think carer’ and ensure any pupil who is in this situation – or anyone who works with them - knows to contact us.”

l For more about help visit youngcarersresource.org or call (01274) 449660.