Lives of Australia’s ‘largely unrecognised’ unpaid carers the focus of new campaign, 3-legged challenge
It’s not something she tells many people, but when 13-year-old Phoebe isn’t at school, she cares for her mum.
It’s an unpaid role driven by her love for her mother Simone, who has been living with a debilitating spinal disability that causes extreme pain.
The teenager is one of 272,000 young people across Australia who are registered as carers, which means they look after a loved one due to illness, disability, mental health, or drug or alcohol problems.
Phoebe does household jobs and shopping, attends her mum’s medical appointments, helps with physical therapy, keeps tabs on medication, and completes paperwork.
On bad days, Phoebe may need to help Simone bathe, dress or even toilet, and has occasionally had to miss out on attending extracurricular activities or even school.
“I love my mum a lot and if it’s going to help her, I will sacrifice something for that, so I can help her,” Phoebe said.
Phoebe has only told two close friends at her school that she cares for her mum, so attending a carers’ retreat recently was a chance to connect with other young people with similar experiences.
“I got to meet a lot of other carers, and now I stay in contact with them, and I got to do things that I don’t normally get the opportunity to do or have time for,” she said.
Simone said she struggled with relying on her daughter so much, especially as her disability was not always visible to others.
“I carry around a big guilt factor,” Simone said.
“As a mum, I feel I’m constricting her. She’s not just my daughter, she’s also my right hand.”
The 3-legged challenge aims to highlight the ties involved in being a carer. (Supplied: Carer Support)
Want to know what it’s like to be an unpaid carer? Tie yourself to a friend
Unpaid carers like Phoebe are the focus of a new campaign, the 3-legged challenge, which aims to raise $125,000 in its first year to provide respite for 500 carers.
The campaign asks Australians to put themselves in the shoes of an unpaid carer by completing an everyday task in public — like catching a bus — while tied to a friend.
Event manager Dave Simms said that despite one in eight Australians being unpaid carers, there was no signature fundraising event for what he said was a largely unrecognised group.
“We want to make them [carers] feel guilt-free, that it’s okay to take a break, to look after yourself,” Mr Simms said.
“We [also] want people to have fun for a serious cause.”
The campaign is a partnership between South Australia’s four carer charities and will be piloted in the state on the March long weekend (March 22-24) with the aim of being adopted nationally, and even internationally.
“It’s brand new, we are doing it for the very first time in South Australia, we hope it will grow in years to come as people get the idea that carers need support,” Mr Simms said.
South Australian James La Vanda cares for his mum who has multiple sclerosis and is among the one in eight Australians who are unpaid carers. (Supplied: Carers Support)
‘It takes a toll on your own life’
Money raised through the 3-legged challenge will allow unpaid carers to take time out to look after themselves and even connect with other carers.
“We often don’t think about those family members who simply, because they love the person, take on a role of caring for them,” Mr Simms said.
“That takes a toll on your own life, you get tired, you can get sick, you have to put some of your own life on hold to do that caring.”
“We want carers to know that we acknowledge what they do, that we understand how that commitment can affect your life.”