More than a million U.S. children, 8-18 years old, care for sick parents, grandparents, and siblings. As a preteen, United Methodist Connie Siskowski cared for her ailing grandfather and that inspired her to create a non-profit to provide support for child caregivers.
(Locator: Boca Raton, Florida)
(Girl's voice) "My fear is that she won't make it one of these days."
(Boy's voice) "I was so lost when she was in the hospital. I was so lost."
An estimated 1.4 million children in the U.S. take care of ailing parents, grandparents, and siblings.
(Woman's voice under graphic) "If you think about what's happened to our country, how the population is aging, how many more single parent families there are, the care falls down to the children."
Fourteen-year-old Aereonna Defau cares for the daily needs of her mother, Vickie, who is battling Stage IV breast cancer.
Aereonna Defau, teen caregiver: "It's up to me to help her out. I feel upset a lot because, I have no way of..." (tears up)
Stories like Aereonna's inspired United Methodist Connie Siskowski to found the American Association of Caregiving Youth, based in Florida.
Connie Siskowski: "I did research and discovered this hidden population of children who are taking care of family members. And, in doing so they sacrifice their education, their health, their well-being, and their childhood."
(Facilitator with children) "It says, 'Name that roadblock.' "
Connie Siskowski: "We work in partnership with a school district. And, it's through that we identify the children who need our help."
Aereonna Defau: "...like if we can't get enough food, they'll bring us food, back to school supplies, holiday presents. The organization has camps for us just to get away, get away from the problem."
Vickie Woodall, Aereonna's mother: "The sicker I got, the more scared she got cause she just clammed up. And, they hooked us up with an agency that started her with the counseling."
Connie Siskowski: "What the children do very much mirrors what an adult family caregiver would do and it's a lot on small shoulders."
(Siskowski at front door) "Hey, Keith!"
Connie Siskowski: "Keith began with us the morning after his mother's open heart surgery. This was in spring of 2007."
Keith Bryant, teen caregiver: "Back in like my 6th grade year, I felt as if I was all alone and the only one with all these problems. I told them I needed help in the classroom and they got me a tutor. They made me feel comfortable; they made my parents feel comfortable. I can trust them with like, my issues and my problems."
Connie Siskowski: "We have seen him grow up right before our eyes and we are just so proud of him."
Keith Bryant: "I'm about to go to Florida State University on a football scholarship. If it weren't for Caregiving, I don't think I'd be in the position I am now."
Connie Siskowski: "As a child I cared for my grandfather; he had congestive heart failure. It was just natural for me. I was like the one with the caregiving gene. When I found him dead, I was 13 and I was in 8th grade. Because he and I had a special relationship, he was like my protector, my buddy; I was really alone when he was no longer there."
Connie Siskowski: "I have been a member of First United Methodist Church in Boca Raton since 1990. If it were not for my spiritual life, I would not be able to do this work. The population that we serve, they're really young hidden heroes of our long-term care system. The reward is so great in being able to see the children transform their lives."
Aereonna Defau: "It makes me feel like I'm not doing this all by myself."
Keith Bryant: "Caregiving Youth, they kept me focused. Because otherwise I probably wouldn't have even had the grades to experience all this exciting stuff right now. My future looks bright."
The American Association of Caregiving Youth (AACY) is the only organization of its kind in the United States.
For more information, call 561-391-7401 or 800-725-2512. Or visit the website.
Posted: June 11, 2013