Skip to main content

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

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - ME-WE (Psychosocial Support for Promoting Mental Health and Well-being among Adolescent Young Carers in Europe)

Reporting period: 2020-01-01 to 2021-06-30

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, some national statistics and pilot projects suggest that about 7-8% of children in Europe have caring 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), 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).
The overall goal of the ME-WE project was to prevent the negative impact that caring responsibilities can have on AYCs’ 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 had three specific objectives: (1) to systematise knowledge on AYCs; (2) to co-design, deliver and evaluate psychosocial interventions in six European countries; (3) to disseminate/provide knowledge translation actions at national, European and international levels.
In 2019-2021, the consortium tested and assessed the new ME-WE primary prevention programme for AYCs in six countries (Italy, Netherlands, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom), which showed its positive impact on mental health and wellbeing, reconciliation with school and work activities, and other aspects of quality of life. A ME-WE mobile app was also developed and tested, and finally made public in Google Play (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=se.appbolaget.mewe&hl=en) and App Store (https://apps.apple.com/se/app/me-we-young-carers/id1452257199?l=en).
The potential of the ME-WE Model was further demonstrated by its flexibility and possibility to be easily and successfully adapted for online interventions and support, as shown during the surge of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-2021.
The ME-WE project co-designed, implemented and evaluateding the real impact of a new intervention framework for improving the resilience of adolescent young carers (AYCs) and combating the risk of poor mental health and social exclusion.
In the first part of the project (2018), partners performed a comprehensive review of: AYCs’ profiles, needs and preferences; national policy, legal and service frameworks; good practices, social innovations and evidence. This was done by means of: a large survey with around 2,000 AYCs; expert interviews and country case studies; literature reviews and Delphi studies.
In parallel, partners launched a systematic and continuous involvement of AYCs and stakeholders at national level through Blended Learning Networks (BLNs). This method was used for engaging AYCs and stakeholders in exploring their needs and preferences, as well as co-designing the intervention (including the mobile app). Country BLNs involved over 100 young carers and stakeholders and consisted of over 80 sessions. Thanks to these interactions, the consortium developed the ME-WE Model (based on the DNA-V model), full intervention plans and materials.
Finally, the consortium deployed the ME-WE Model and implemented the interventions in the six countries in 2019-2021, in line with the study protocol and implementation plans (as adapted after the surge of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions).
Throughout the project course, we conducted a wide range of communication, dissemination and exploitation activities. We estimated to have reached over 10 million people and general public through media (e.g. traditional or online newspapers and magazines), over 400,000 young carers and stakeholders in the civil society (through BLNs, presentations, stakeholder networks and other occasions) and over 12,000 people in the scientific community (through scientific papers, presentations at conferences and other events).
First, research carried out in the first part of the project (survey, country case studies, reviews and Delphi study) facilitated innovative cross-national comparison, which represents the first large scale findings on the mental health needs and well-being of adolescent young carers (AYCs) in Europe.
Second, the ME-WE intervention stands out as the first-ever randomised control trial with AYCs. Its unique inclusion of six European nations with a varied level of approaches and awareness of AYCs is ground-breaking, and it is the first time that the DNA-V Model has had dedicated use with AYCs. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the intervention was fully virtualized, thus enabling running the support programme in any circumstances, which constituted a challenge but also an innovation.
The method of Blended Learning Network (BLN) proved to be a successful way of working in partnership with end-users (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. A co-design approach constituted a key added value in the ME-WE project, compared to other (top-down) research projects in the field.
Furthermore, as the ME-WE project brought 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 successful approaches adopted by the project countries.
The active engagement of Eurocarers – the pan-European association advocating for carers – in the ME-WE consortium was a fundamental driver for a significant achievement of results for communication, dissemination and exploitation at European level. Thanks to Eurocarers, its networks and established activities, the project had a substantial impact on European stakeholders and policy makers, contributing to raising awareness on young carers and starting to include the issue in policy agendas.
The project partners created and will continue creating links with AYCs, schools, health and social care systems, policy makers, 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, especially at a young age. As a result: more young carers 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