Coronavirus: The eight-year-old carer looking after her mum and sisters in lockdown
Large numbers of young carers are struggling to cope with looking after their loved ones by themselves during the lockdown.
Many who look after a parent or help care for a brother or sister face the risk of mental health problems because support they would normally receive has been removed due to coronavirus restrictions.
Under regulations set by the government to tackle the COVID-19 crisis, many of the obligations on local authorities to ensure those in need are cared for have been relaxed.
A study found nearly 80% of young carers are feeling isolated and alone as a result.
Sky News has spoken to some of them about the difficulties and pressures they are facing.
Eight-year-old Phoebe George cares for her mum, Charlene who has heart failure, and her younger sisters who are aged four and six.
Speaking to Sky News, Phoebe said her mum relies on her everyday.
She said: “If I wasn’t here for mummy then she wouldn’t have managed it, because these last couple of weeks I’ve been helping her a lot. It’s a lot of work and sometimes it’s quite hard.
“I do the washing up, and I hoover, tidy up the bedrooms, make the beds and clean the front room and bathroom, and I help the girls have a bath and run a bath for mummy as well.”
Phoebe says she feels a big sense of responsibility, with the family having lost the help of a carer who would usually come in to help.
But she is well prepared.
“I learnt to cook when I was six, I like cooking beans on toast and making cakes for my sisters,” she said.
The recent death of Phoebe’s grandfather has made lockdown even more difficult.
Her dad is taking care of their widowed grandmother so cannot visit the girls.
On Phoebe’s ninth birthday, next month, she won’t be able to give him a hug – a wave from a two metre distance will have to do.
The family have been self-isolating for seven weeks and, due to the severity of Charlene’s condition, need to stay indoors for 11 weeks more.
They cannot even leave the house to go to a supermarket so a local charity is delivering food to them in an attempt to help ease the pressure.
Charlene is all too aware of the demands put on her daughter – she knows it’s not easy for anyone, let alone a child.
She said: “I wouldn’t have coped without them here. Even in the evenings, when they go to bed, it’s so lonely, so hard being on my own through all of this.
“I know I’ve got friends on the end of a phone and people I can call on, but because I can’t get out and because that social interaction is so important, they keep me going through the day.”
Like Phoebe, 13-year-old George Smith is a sole carer. In his case, he looks after his mum and dad.
Both his parents fall into the vulnerable group and have been issued with government letters to say they must self-quarantine for three months.
George is completely isolated and longs for human contact.
Even hearing someone else’s voice makes all the difference.
He said: “I feel lonely, sad and tired most of the time. I don’t feel energised like I normally would.
“I haven’t seen my friends, physically, for four weeks but I’ve been able to contact them online.
“I’m finding it hard not being able to leave the house. The days seem to roll into one.”
“Trying to do school work has also been hard, I miss having school, my teachers and friends to talk to.”
Young carers who might usually benefit from therapy and social clubs are feeling invisible and vulnerable.
Some charities, like Caring Together, are running virtual sessions and catch-ups as a way of making contact with those who are cut off and George has been joining in with some of these.
He said: “Even if you’re friends with the other carers or live in the same community, it’s not like you can go to their house because we’re in lockdown but seeing their faces over a virtual site makes you comfortable with your surroundings.”
There’s been one part of the week George has looked forward to though, the weekly Clap for our Carers event on his front door.
He and his family have even dressed up in fancy dress for the occasion to lift everyone’s spirits.
“It’s been nice clapping for our carers every week, with everyone acknowledging the hard work everyone is doing including us young carers,” he said.
Next week Kay Burley will be hosting a live Q&A with Health Secretary Matt Hancock. You can put your questions to Mr Hancock about the coronavirus and its impact on your life live on Sky News.
Email us your questions – or you can record a video clip of your question on your phone – and send it to AskTheHealthSecretary@sky.uk