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Psychosocial Support for Promoting Mental Health and Well-being among Adolescent Young Carers in Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ME-WE (Psychosocial Support for Promoting Mental Health and Well-being among Adolescent Young Carers in Europe)

Reporting period: 2019-01-01 to 2019-12-31

Young carers are children and young people who care for a family member or a friend who has a chronic illness, disability, frailty, addiction or any other condition related to a need for care. They assume a level of responsibility that would usually be associated with an adult. Although there are no precise figures about how many young carers there are across Europe today, some national statistics and pilot projects suggest that about 7-8% of children in Europe have caregiving responsibilities. They are largely invisible to public authorities and service providers. The lack of awareness on the challenges faced by young carers entails a lack of support, with a negative impact at individual level and at societal level. Indeed, coming to terms with caring responsibilities while navigating growing up and the challenges that life throws at them can be overwhelming. Pressures associated with caring can be considered as a risk factor for mental ill-health. This is particularly the case for adolescent young carers (AYCs) (15-17 years old), as they enter a critical transition phase in their personal and social development to adulthood. Taking on a caring role can also have a negative impact on young carers’ education, as it can entail under-achievement, absence and drop-outs (with the result of low employability and social exclusion in the long term).

In order to address these challenges, a European consortium of prominent universities, research institutes and civil society organisations has been carrying out an ambitious research and innovation project: the ME-WE Project. The overall goal is to prevent the negative impact that caring responsibilities can have on adolescent young carers’ mental health, by improving their resilience (the process of negotiating, managing and adapting to significant sources of stress or trauma) and by enhancing the social support available to them (from family, school, peers, services).
The project has three specific objectives: (1) to systematise knowledge on AYCs; (2) to co-design, deliver and evaluate psychosocial interventions in six countries; (3) to disseminate/provide knowledge translation actions at national, European and international levels.
The first year of the project was dedicated to the systematisation of knowledge on AYCS in 6 project countries (Italy, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, UK), providing a cross-national comparison on: profiles, needs and preferences for support of AYCs; legislation, policies and service frameworks addressing AYCs; good practices to support young carers.
The knowledge gathered during the first year informed the rest of the activities, focused on co-designing, testing and evaluating a psychosocial support intervention for adolescent young carers (objective 2).

Blended Learning Networks - i.e. heterogeneous communities of practice bringing together AYCs and relevant stakeholders, engaging in a process of mutual learnings- and Young Carer Workshops were held on a continuous basis in the six project countries, to ensure that the voices of AYCs are genuinely heard throughout the project. Over the second year of the project, the co-design approach led to the development of the ME-WE support intervention for AYCs, as well as the development of a new mobile app, which will enhance the national intervention, enabling professional support at distance. The ME-WE intervention is a primary prevention intervention focused on strengthening the resilience of AYCs. It follows the cluster-randomized controlled trial methodology (RCT): in each country, approximately 50 AYCs will be recruited to receive the ME-WE intervention program (experimental group); approximately 50 AYCs will be assigned to a wait list and receive the intervention program at a later stage (control group). Each partner developed a country-implementation plan and recruited over 220 stakeholders (mostly schools but also social and health care providers and NGOs) able to support the identification of AYCs to be involved in the RCT. Further, in most countries, the recruitment of participants started, while in others it will start at the beginning of 2020. Three questionnaires to evaluate the effectiveness of the ME-WE intervention have been designed and piloted: an evaluation questionnaire for participants of intervention, a screening tool with inclusion and exclusion criteria and an evaluation questionnaire for facilitators of the intervention. The research findings have been translated into layperson terms and conveyed to relevant stakeholders, to ensure knowledge translation and exchange (objective 3).
The cross-national comparison facilitated by the project – on profiles, needs and preferences of AYCs; legislation, policies and service frameworks addressing AYCs; good practices to support young carers- is the first of its kind. It can be used to ground future research in the field, as well as future developments in policy and practice.

As the ME-WE Project brings together countries at different levels of awareness of and support for young carers, the research findings can help other countries with a current low level of awareness to learn from the approaches adopted by the project countries.

A co-design approach informs the ME-WE project: YCs are considered as experts by experience and actively engaged in the BLNs and in all the project activities. This is a progress beyond the state of art, as the voices of young carers are rarely considered within research projects in the field. The positive experience of involvement of YCs in the project activities can empower YCs all across Europe, by showing that their voices can be heard.

The method of Blended Learning Network is a successful way of working in partnership with end-users – in this case AYCs- together with other stakeholders. The method could be used by researchers and practitioners for other vulnerable groups in research, practice and policy arenas alike.

The intervention programme will positively impact on the AYCs that will participate: it will strengthen their resilience and improve their mental health. This can empower AYCs, with the effect – in the long term- of enhanced educational attainment, employability and social inclusion. In so doing, the project will contribute to the Europe 2020 strategy target of reducing the rate of early school leaving to below 10% and to the goal of better mental health (increasingly recognised as an important driver of economic growth and social development in Europe). We are expecting that the intervention programme developed within the project will become one of the commonly used support mechanisms for young carers in all project countries and beyond.

The project partners are creating links with AYCs, schools, health and social care systems, policymakers, contributing to an increased awareness among relevant stakeholders and the general public. This has the potential to lead to more carer friendly societies and reduce the stigma around caring. As a result, more YCs across Europe will be able to self-identify as carers and ask for support; professionals will be empowered to identify young carers and provide them with support.The increased awareness – combined with research based evidence on strategies to support young carers – will drive the change in mind-sets, policies and practices across Europe. This will enable young carers to pursue their goals in life and to thrive.
The Me-We Project