resources and support for caregiving children.
Her own experience illustrates what many children face.
Siskowski was living with her grandparents after her parents’
divorce and cared for her grandfather, who had congestive heart
failure, while her mother worked two jobs to support the family.
At age 13, while trying to give him medicine in the middle of
the night, she discovered he had died.
Positive vs. negative experiences
Research also highlights the positive effects caregiving
experiences can have on children. A big factor in making it
a worthwhile experience may be the strength of their family
relationships. “Caregiving does give the opportunity to teach
the child that they have an important role in this world and
that can be very healthy for them,” says Joan Asarnow, PhD,
professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University
of California, Los Angeles.
In a survey of 100 young caregivers ages 10 to 25, Pakenham
found that most agreed that they had gotten many benefits
from caregiving, including becoming more kind to others,
learning patience, and changing their life goals for the better
(Journal of Health Psychology, 2007). However, he also found
that having a choice in caring for a family member played a
role in gaining these benefits, and was strongly associated with
positive affect and life satisfaction. Those who felt forced into
caregiving roles were less likely to report these positive effects.
Personality traits may also be important. In a study in press
in the International Journal of Psychology Research, Shifren and
colleagues found that former child, adolescent and emerging
adult caregivers’ levels of optimism may buffer them from
early negative caregiver experiences and are associated with less
reported depressive symptoms and more well-being in these
individuals in adulthood.
Social connectedness, particularly with peers, can also be a
factor in determining whether caregiving is a positive experience
for children. “Talking about caregiving normalizes the situation,”
says Charles of the University of British Columbia.
Among the programs that help foster such connections
is AACY’s Caregiving Youth Project in Palm Beach County,
Florida. It offers social events, an overnight camp and respite,
as well as classes in health care and cooking to boost kids’
caregiving confidence and competence. “The kids love learning
they’re not alone, and families are encouraged when they feel
cared about,” Siskowski says. The organization also provides
tutoring and computers and helps caregivers in high school
focus on graduation and planning for the future, including
scholarships and career opportunities.
For school-age siblings of children with disabilities, Sibshops
( www.siblingsupport.org), an international network, provides
peer support and education programs. “When you start looking
at the services siblings get versus parent [caregivers], it’s pretty
easy to see who’s getting the short end of the stick,” says founder
and director Don Meyer. “But these siblings have the same
issues, and are going to be in the lives of that person longer than
the parents will.”
While it can be difficult to identify kids who need services,
advocates say screening questions on caregiving from a school
psychologist, guidance counselor, school nurse or pediatrician
could help them spot this potential underlying issue.
“We’re not going to eliminate kids as caregivers, so why
don’t we arm them with more skills, training and practice?” says
Kavanaugh, who has studied families in which children help
care for a parent with Huntington’s disease.
“It’s really powerful to see a kid responsible for these levels
of care. Overwhelming, scary, frightening, but at the same time,
• American Association of Caregiving Youth website:
• APA Family Caregiver Briefcase: www.apa.org/pi/
• Charles, G., Stainton, T., & Marshall, S. (2009).
Young carers: Mature before their time. Reclaiming
Children and Youth, 18( 2), 37–41.
• Cohen, D., Greene, J., Toyinbo, P., & Siskowski, C.
(2012). Impact of family caregiving by youth on their
psychological well-being: A latent trait analysis. Journal of
Behavioral Health Services & Research, 39, 245–256.
• East, P. L. (2010). Children’s provision of family
caregiving: Benefit or burden? Child Development
Perspectives, 4, 55–61.
• Joseph, S., Becker, S., Becker, F., & Regel, S. (2009).
Assessment of caring and its effects in young people:
Development of the Multidimensional Assessment
of Caring Activities Checklist (MACA-YC18) and the
Positive and Negative Outcomes of Caring Questionnaire
(PANOC-YC20) for young carers. Child: Care, Health and
Development, 35, 510–520.
• Kavanaugh, M. (2014). Children and adolescents
providing care to a parent with Huntington’s disease:
Disease symptoms, caregiving tasks and young carer well-being. Child and Youth Care Forum, 43, 675–690.
• Pakenham, K. I., & Cox, S. (2015). The effects of
parental illness and other ill family members on youth
caregiving experiences. Psychology & Health. Advance
• Shifren, K. (Ed.). (2009). How caregiving affects
development: Psychological implications for child,
adolescent, and adult caregivers. Washington, DC:
American Psychological Association.