Essential and Invisible: Understanding the Needs of and Supporting Young Caregivers and Their Families Through Pandemic Recovery and Beyond Using a National Network
More than 8 million Canadians provide unpaid care to a family member or friend with injury, disability, or illness. Of these, 1.25 million are young caregivers (those under 25) who care for a sibling(s), parent(s), or grandparent(s) while juggling school and sometimes paid work. Most Canadians are unaware of the responsibilities and challenges faced by these ‘invisible’ caregivers and they are a severely understudied group in Canada. As a result of COVID, young caregivers and their families may experience a greater impact from experiences such as, but not limited to, unemployment (due to financial strain from caregiving), delayed access to services for their loved ones, and fears of infecting a loved one who is in a high risk category for infection from COVID. This project expands on an ongoing study in Ontario to address knowledge gaps from community service providers in 3 other provinces: Alberta, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia. The study objectives are: 1) to identify the impact of restrictions on young caregivers and their families; 2) how they navigated and responded to these changes/impacts; 3) identify the key factors at the micro-, meso-, and macro- levels that influenced the impact of and how they navigated COVID; 4) explore gender differences in caregiving experience, challenges, and expectations in young caregivers, their parents, and those whom they care for; 5) compare and contrast the experiences of participants living in rural versus urban communities across Canada; 6) to determine the most appropriate and acceptable strategies to support caregiving families and their children; and 7) create and grow a national network throughout this project to allow existing and new network members to use the knowledge created during this study to support their clients and eventually leverage collective action to influence broader change throughout Canada during recovery from COVID and beyond.