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Young Carer Maggie – looking after her family during COVID-19

24 July 2020

Maggie Brooks an extraordinary individual with an astonishing story to tell, at only 12 years old. Read on to find out how Maggie has supported her family through the lockdown.

Like millions of children Maggie Brooks has had to do her schoolwork at home during the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike most, she faces an extra challenge. Often her Mother has attacks of a crippling illness. When these strike Maggie, 12, has to step in to look after her younger brother TJ. 

Maggie is a young carer and in the first eight weeks of lockdown often found herself entertaining her brother for days at a time. TJ, who has autism and is being diagnosed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, has a particular attachment to Maggie. They paint, draw NHS rainbows, clamber on the climbing wall in the garden or play the computer game Minecraft. But when Maggie wants time to herself her brother sometimes screams or kicks at her door. 

“When I care for my brother it is normally when my Mum is ill. But other times it is because my brother has autistic meltdowns and I help him. When Mum is ill and finds it hard to move I help with the cooking and do chores around the house.” 

Michelle, their mother, has fibromyalgia, a long-term condition that causes bouts of acute pain and fatigue. “I am in that much pain I can’t get up out of bed or I just sleep so she keeps him occupied, entertained, and sits with him just so I can get rest some days,” Michelle said. 

“She has been brilliant, she has been getting up and making sure she has been sticking to her routine, doing her school work as well as other things.” 

TJ sees Maggie as his companion. Their father, who is in the Army, helps at weekends but is away from Monday to Friday.” 

The family from Windsor, Berkshire, have two older daughters aged 18 and 16 but both have health conditions and, due to their affinity in age, TJ sees Maggie as his companion. Their father, who is in the Army, helps at weekends but is away from Monday to Friday. 

The Young Carer’s Service has kept Maggie in touch with other young carers via Zoom calls, through which she met a friend who she speaks to on Facetime, and provided activities via video such as a fruit animal competition for which she and her mother made a hedgehog out of a pineapple and grapes.  

“Family Action runs group get-togethers once a month over Zoom so I get to see and chat with the other young cares and I get regular one to one chats with my support worker that really help,” Maggie said. 

Her mother added: “I do think she does struggle sometimes when she wants to be on her own and he doesn’t allow that. She does get upset, it is a lot for her, and when I am poorly she gets really upset because she doesn’t like to see me poorly.” 

Michelle could have sent TJ to school, due to being key worker with her job in a supermarket. She kept him at home for eight weeks due to the girls’ health conditions but he has returned to his middle school, giving him structure and his family a break. 

Sarah, Family Action’s young carers’ manager in Windsor and Maidenhead, said children who look after a parent, sibling or other family member, must be offered support to ensure it is not a negative experience. Sarah said: “More young carers are known to have mental health illnesses, the education gap can widen as they get older and they can leave school with lower grades than their peers.” 

Family Action believes it’s important to support those who need us. So if you have been affected by any issues raised in this article or know of a Young Carer who may need support please get in contact with our FamilyLine who can help. 

Greg Hurst

Greg Hurst, The Times Social Affairs Editor.