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Madeleine Buchner Little Dreamers Interview

Madeleine Buchner Little Dreamers Interview

Little Dreamers, Australia's leading organisation for young carers, has launched a campaign around next month's Census to get a more accurate understanding of the true number of young carers in Australia.

The 2011 Census identified about 115,000 young carers, those 26 years and under who look after a family member at home. However, Carers Victoria identified approximately 420,000 in this category which equates to 1 in 10 young people.

Founder and CEO of Little Dreamers Madeleine Buchner said the campaign - titled Tick the Box – is important because the Federal Government needs to understand the actual number of people who are young carers because it is an area that requires a lot more funding.

'Unfortunately, there are a number of limitations that must be considered when filling out the Census. For example, young carers are invited to answer Questions 20 – 23 but anyone under the age of 15 is excluded from answering Question 49 - which asks 'In the last two weeks did the person spend time providing unpaid care, help or assistance to family members or others because of a disability, a long term health condition or problems related to old age?".

"We work with young carers on a daily basis and we know that the majority fall within the 10 to 14 year-old age group. They shouldn't be ignored but the Census is not structured to capture the correct data.

"What this means – as in what happened in 2011 – is that the number of young carers is grossly under-estimated.

The Tick the Box campaign wants parents and young carers to understand that they are entitled to funding for the work that they do and ensure that they tick the correct box on the form. 'The Census is a research tool designed to provide a comprehensive guide to the Australian population. However, the current Census is failing to accurately capture the number of young carers who are under 15 years of age. By filling out the Census correctly the Australian Government will get a better understanding of how big the issue is and then - which is our hope - allocate sufficient funds to the several hundred thousand young carers.

"This is important as a many young carers suffer from poor mental health as a direct result of their caring role. The school dropout rates are also alarmingly high with 96% of primary carers between the ages of 15 – 25 reported to drop out of education. '

Little Dreamers will bring the initiative to life with a four week social media campaign to showcase the stories of young carers in an effort to highlight what it's really like to be a young carer and encourage others to -Tick the Box' with more information available at www.littledreamersonline.com/tickthebox.

Little Dreamers works to provide young carers with the opportunity to have a break from their "daily duties" providing a wide range of services including an online support group, a wish granting program, a school holiday program, a school program where volunteers talk to teachers and students about life as a young carer and an annual Young Carers Festival.

Little Dreamers is the brainchild of Madeleine Buchner and Rebecca Abelman and was first established in 2002 before relaunching six years ago. Today, Little Dreamers work to improve the lives of the 420,000 young carers in Australia and believes in a world where all young carers have someone to care for them. The not-for-profit organisation offers a wide range of services including an online support group, a -wish granting' program, a school holiday program, a school program where volunteers talk to teachers and students about life as a young carer and an annual Young Carers Festival, now in its third year. Previous support has been provided by David Campbell and Molly Meldrum along with a small team of dedicated staff.


Interview with Founder and CEO of Little Dreamers, Madeleine Buchner

Founder and CEO of Little Dreamers, Madeleine Buchner, has been a young carer for her brother, Charlie, since she was just three years old.

Sadly, Charlie has been sick for most of his life. He was first diagnosed with asthma at six months old, encephalitis at three years and epilepsy at four years. In later years, he was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and an adrenal insufficiency. As a result, Madeleine often had to stay with friends or family whilst her brother was sick and experienced issues such as anxiety and stress.

Madeleine was first inspired to launch a charity at just nine years of age after wondering why nobody was ever there to support her. She discussed her feelings with a close friend and they decided to do something for other young carers so set about organising school discos, dress up days and movie nights in an effort to raise much needed funds.

In 2008, Madeleine suffered another traumatic event when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. At just 15 years of age she became a carer to both her brother and mother, all whilst studying at school and hosting charitable events.

Fast-forward to 2009 and Little Dreamers was born, the charity has now supported over 500 young carers to date. Today, the sentiment remains and Madeleine continues to believe in an Australia where all young carers have someone to care for them. She is an extremely passionate and driven individual and has been recognised for her efforts with accolades including the Young Citizen of the Year and Victorian Young Achiever Awards.


Question: What is Little Dreamers?

Madeleine Buchner: Little Dreamers is Australia's leading organisation for young carers. The charity is the brainchild of Madeleine Buchner and Rebecca Abelman and was first established in 2002 before relaunching six years ago. Today, Little Dreamers work to improve the lives of the 420,000 young carers in Australia and believe in a world where all young carers have someone to care for them. The not-for-profit organisation offers a wide range of services including an online support group, a -wish granting' program, a school holiday program, a school program where volunteers talk to teachers and students about life as a young carer and an annual Young Carers Festival, now in its third year. Previous support has been provided by David Campbell and Molly Meldrum along with a small team of dedicated staff.


Question: What inspired you to create Little Dreamers?

Madeleine Buchner: The charity was created as a result of my own personal experience as a young carer. My brother, Charlie, has been sick for most of his life. He was first diagnosed with asthma at six months old, encephalitis at three years and epilepsy at four years. In later years, he was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and an adrenal insufficiency. I often had to stay with friends or family whilst my brother was sick which was difficult at times but eventually became the norm.

As a teenager, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and I then became a young carer to both of them. It's fair to say that we never really had a -normal' family and there was never really a routine, one minute Charlie and mum could be quite healthy and the next minute both of them could be in hospital. As a result I struggled quite a lot growing up, I didn't really have many friends who understood what I was going through; there was never really anyone there to support me which was hard at times. Today, I still suffer from anxiety and that has definitely come from being a young carer.


Question: What advice do you have for other young carers?

Madeleine Buchner: I consider myself lucky to work with young carers on a regular basis; after all they are at the heart of what the charity is all about. I am always re-motivated when I meet other Young Carers, it's very humbling to listen to their personal stories and discover the steps they take to look after loved ones.

However, I believe that there is definitely still a stigma in Australia around disability, mental illness, chronic illnesses and addiction. I think that this notion can be extended to -Young Carers' as many people are often ashamed to admit that there is a problem at home therefore they would rather suffer in silence than acknowledge the issue. I often talk to young carers and many admit that they rarely talk about their carer role with extended family members, friends or school teachers despite feeling stressed and depressed at times.

As with mental illness, I think the key to removing the stigma is simply talking about it more. Young Carers should be celebrated for the integral role that they play within their family and therefore feel comfortable asking for additional help when required. It's OK to talk about your situation and ask for help, don't suffer in silence.


Question: Why did you launch the campaign entitled Tick the Box?

Madeleine Buchner: Our campaign comes out of a need to raise awareness about young carers. -Tick the Box' was created as the 2011 Census only identified about 115,000 young carers, those 26 years and under who look after a family member at home. However, Carers Victoria identified approximately 420,000 in this category which equates to 1 in 10 young people.

The census is a research tool designed to provide a comprehensive guide to the Australian population. However, there are currently several limitations as the form is not currently structured to collect the required data and as a result data is skewed and not representative. For example, children under 15 years old are excluded from answering question 49. We work with young carers on a daily basis and we know that the majority fall within the 10 to 14 year-old age group.

What this means – as in what happened in 2011 – is that the number of young carers is grossly under-estimated. By filling out the census correctly the Australian Government will get a better understanding of how big the issue is and then – which is our hope – allocate sufficient funds to the several hundred thousand young carers.

• The difference in numbers captured by the Census vs. other research which proves that the current figures are grossly underestimated
• The desperate need for extra funding from the Government for Young Carers
• Need for recognition of Young Carers from the public


Question: What do you want Australians to understand about the Tick the Box campaign?

Madeleine Buchner: Ultimately, we want to raise awareness of the several thousand young carers currently living in Australia today. We want to remove the stigma and make it ok for people to identify with being a young carer.

Interestingly, we've had a lot of interaction with young carers following this campaign saying -wow, I didn't realise that that classified me as a young carer'. This is great news for Little Dreamers as we're actually educating people and raising awareness of young carers.

The more we get young people to acknowledge that they are a young carer through social media and through connecting with organisations like Little Dreamers, the more evidence we have to take to government. We need to work together to build a stronger case and ask government to do more to support these young people.

• Increase in awareness of the -existence' of Young Carers
• A breaking down of the barriers around talking about being a Young Carer
• An increase in the number of people who tick -YES' to Question 49 about being a Young Carer in Australia


Question: Why do you believe there is insufficient funding to young carers?

Madeleine Buchner: As I said previously, there is a real disconnect between numbers captured by the Census vs. other research which proves that the current figures are grossly underestimated

The 2011 Census only identified about 115,000 young carers, those 26 years and under who look after a family member at home. However, Carers Victoria identified approximately 420,000 in this category which equates to 1 in 10 young people.

In February 2016 the Australian Child Wellbeing Project listed Young Carers as one of the four most marginalised groups in Australia. I believe that Young Carers are often one of the most overlooked groups as they -don't have anything wrong with them'. The reality is that Young Carers have a high risk of developing a mental illness, high rate of poverty and a high education dropout rate.

The Government has introduced a Young Carer Bursary program however there are only 333 bursaries available and this does very little to impact the 420,000 Young Carers approximately living in Australia today.


Question: What's next for Little Dreamers?

Madeleine Buchner: We are moving towards a very exciting new model designed to support Young Carers on a more permanent basis, the new initiative is set to launch early next year. I would also like our Young Carers Festival to be a national event as oppose to taking place only in Victoria. My ultimate dream is to make Little Dreamers an international organisation, this is something we are constantly working towards and hope to achieve in the not too distant future.


Question: How can Australians support Little Dreamers?

Madeleine Buchner: Australians can help to support Little Dreamers in many different ways. Firstly, those who personally know a young carer can definitely start to open communication channels and create discussion around the issues currently facing young carers in Australia today. It would be great if people could also share the Little Dreamers -Care for Australia's Young Carers' message on social media. As most of our funding comes from private donors and fundraising events hosted throughout the year we rely heavily on the generosity of others whether it be monetary donations or time. We always welcome new volunteers, you can apply to volunteer and become a -Little Dreamers Dream Granter' via our website. You can also support us by making a donation or purchasing one of our books - My Brother is Sick Again (to help break down barriers around mental health and Young Carers) or Colour it with Happiness (to promote mindfulness colouring as a form of active meditation to help with mental health concerns).


Interview by Brooke Hunter



 



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