Reaching out to young carers through Rhythm and Poetry during COVID-19
In early 2020, HealthWise Wales (HWW) partnered with Ministry of Life (MoL) to use their expertise working with young people in need to reach out to young carers and help them share their stories through music. The stories reflect the challenges of being a young carer, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, and highlight the benefits of arts based methods for engaging young people who are at risk of isolation.
We have previously reported that data provided by HWW participants show that carers have unhealthier lifestyle behaviours and poorer mental health than non-carers. Young people who provide care for a loved one are at increased risk of experiencing poor mental health due to the disruptive impact of this role on day-to-day activities. The threat of COVID-19 and consequent lockdown have disrupted daily lives and caring routines adding to the usual caring burden through increased practical, mental health and financial pressures.
Supported by the Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund, HWW worked in partnership with MoL, a community interest company, young carers and their support workers, to develop and deliver a skills-based, music engagement activity that provided a form of respite during lockdown and an opportunity for young carers to voice their own experiences in a safe, virtual setting.
Aiming to reach out to and support young carers at a difficult time in their caring journey, we developed links with YMCA and the Carers Trust Wales to involve carers with different backgrounds and ages. From May to October 2020, over 20 virtual interactive sessions took place with more than 30 young carers taking part in a creative process of turning their thoughts and experiences into lyrics and music, under the guidance of MOL and local musicians.
Focusing on song writing enabled the young people to discuss their feelings and experiences in a non-judgemental environment, provided information to their support providers which facilitated greater understanding of young carers' issues and perspectives and facilitated the carers to develop song writing and production skills with outputs which were expressive, meaningful and provided a sense of achievement, at a difficult time in their caring journey.
Suggested topics for discussion included key research findings, but the carers themselves chose the focus of the lyrics which covered topics including personal experiences of being a young carer and the impact of unhealthy lifestyle behaviours. Throughout the interactive sessions, young carers were mentored in lyric writing and performance. These activities highlighted the complex and challenging needs of young carers' and the potential for using skills based, musical approaches to attract and connect with young carers whose circumstances are poorly understood and increase their risk of isolation and related health issues.
By sharing the music & lyrics, we aim to raise awareness and improve knowledge of how young people can be engaged with academic research and provide insights into the real life stories behind research findings that relate to their health and wellbeing. Art-based engagement activities can act as a bridge between youth work and academia, a means of giving back to communities and making research findings relevant and accessible to young carers.