Connie Siskowski, RN, PhD
The Board of Directors of the Palms of Largo Intergenerational Community Foundation became aware of an increasing and unrecognized trend for children to participate in family caregiving. They also recognized the potential for caregiving youth to suffer adverse effects physically, psychologically and in their education from caregiving responsibilities. The ramifications may not only be on the child today, but also into our society tomorrow. In cooperation with the School District of Pinellas County, Largo Middle and High School students took a short survey in April, 2006 to learn the extent of caregiving by youth.
Primary Indicators of Child Caregiving
In Florida, there is strong evidence of caregiving by middle and high school students at a level that may exceed other areas of the country. National research reports that of the 1.3-1.4 million caregiving youth, 38% assist a grandparent and 34% assist a parent. The primary demographic factors that play a role in the regional prevalence of caregiving among students include the extent of: a) the elderly population; b) cultural diversity; c) health indicators; and d) economic indicators. The over sixty-five year old population in Pinellas County accounts for nearly one fourth of its people (22.5%) and in Largo this same group comprises 30.1% of its population.
Key Survey Results
The abbreviated questionnaire has eight questions with two contingency points where students make a decision to stop or continue. Only students with a family health situation and/or who were participating in caregiving roles completed the whole survey. The number of student respondents in Largo Middle School (976) represents 82% of the entire student population of 1190. Of 2367 students at Largo High, 919 surveys were completed and returned or nearly forty percent (38.8%) of students.
Of the 1895 survey participants, 569 students (30%) indicated there was someone living with them requiring special medical care. Of these students nearly one-half (280 - 49.2%) either "Agreed" or "Strongly Agreed" that living with the person hinders their learning. Of these, 167 or 59.6% were in Largo Middle School.
The school samples are culturally diverse with 36.9% of students being Black, Hispanic, Asian-Pacific Islander or another race. No racial category of student is exempt from caregiving and/or experiencing adverse effects from their participation in caregiving activities as evidenced in Graph I.
The prevalence of family health situations, hindered learning, and adverse effects experienced by caregiving youth from within each racial category.
The majority of students with a family health situation also participate in care. Of the 569 students, 534 or 93.8% are caregiving youth. This represents 322 student-caregivers at Largo Middle and 212 at Largo High School. Students who reported multiple adverse effects ranged from a low of 8.1% of sixth grade caregiving youth to a high of 22.1% experienced by student-caregivers in the ninth grade.
Student-caregivers who report adverse effects from caregiving increase with grade.
The information from this abbreviated survey does not portray the type of caregiving situation, the relationship to the person the student assists, the time they spend in caregiving, the types of activities they perform, the psychosocial impact they experience in their lives, the intangible rewards they experience, and/or the emotional responses of the burden and worries they carry. The data warrants attention to taking the next steps to assess and support caregiving youth so they can know they are not alone, receive assistance and support in their caregiving role, remain in school, do their homework and enjoy the benefits of education today as well as for themselves and for society tomorrow. The approach to solutions must be collaborative, integrated and interdisciplinary with understanding of the needs in the homes, linkages for families, and the resources caregiving youth deserve to become tomorrow’s educated and productive citizens.