More Than 1M Caregivers in U.S. Are Children, Study Says
More than one million U.S. children ages eight to 18 care for relatives who are ill or have disabilities, according to the first study to examine child caregivers in the U.S., USA Today reports. The study, financed by the Administration on Aging, will be presented at a conference Friday by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the United Hospital Fund. It was based on two surveys by Mathew Greenwald -- the first was a random phone survey of 2,000 U.S. households in 2003 to determine the prevalence of child caregiving, and the second was a series of phone interviews with 213 child caregivers and 250 noncaregiving children.
According to the study, an estimated 44.4 million U.S. adults provide unpaid care to another adult, but some 1.3 million to 1.4 million child caregivers remain "largely ... hidden" because they "stay silent" out of "fear [of] being separated from their parents," USA Today reports. Other findings of the study are listed below.
- Most child caregivers provide help to grandparents or parents with illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease and cancer.
- At least 75% of child caregivers receive some help, but half say they spend a significant amount of time caregiving.
- 58% of child caregivers help with at least one routine daily activity, such as bathing or eating, and nearly all help with shopping, household tasks and meal preparation (Kornblum , USA Today, 9/14).
- Caregiving children are more likely to be from low-income, minority families and single-parent households (Kornblum , USA Today, 9/14).
- Minority child caregivers are less likely to have someone else helping with caregiving tasks.
- Child caregivers tend to have more anxiety and depression than noncaregivers (USA Today sidebar, 9/14).
Gail Gibson Hunt, president of NAC and lead author of the study, said, "In a lot of cases these kids don't really have the choice," adding, "It's mind-blowing because nobody even knows about this. When you talk to people on Capitol Hill and you tell them that somewhere between 3% and 4% of the kids could be doing essential family caregiving, they're just stunned. It's like, 'Well, I never heard anything about this'" (Kornblum , USA Today, 9/14). Hunt said, "This is a failing of our health care system" (Kornblum , USA Today, 9/14).
Study co-author Carol Levine of UHF said child caregivers "are not seen as doing anything but helping out" (Kornblum , USA Today, 9/14).
Josefina Carbonell, assistant secretary for aging at HHS, said, "We know that children have always played a role in assisting their families, especially in minority communities where they frequently act as interpreters and care for their siblings. Yet this report reveals that a significant percentage of these children are providing much more personal and complex tasks" (Kornblum , USA Today, 9/14).
Michael Bradley, a psychologist and author specializing in childhood and adolescence, said that caregiving in small and controlled doses can be "therapeutic," adding, "Elder care really helps [child caregivers] wise up" (Kornblum , 9/14).