The Young Caregivers Association’s Powerhouse program combats isolation with virtual programming
The responsibility of caring for someone living with a chronic condition can be stressful and all-consuming, though the effects on children and young adults in support positions often go overlooked. The Young Caregivers Association (YCA) is looking to change that.
“We can’t change their situations, but we can help them learn how to cope and deal with them. Then, we’re hopefully setting them up to be stronger adults, being able to deal with caregiving as they continue to grow,” says YCA executive director Michelle Lewis. “There’s an undeniable need. And there’s undeniable impact that services and support can provide these families.”
Through Powerhouse — the name given to encapsulate the YCA’s programs and services for young caregivers — the southern Ontario-based registered charity offers peer support gatherings, camps and counselling to young people under the age of 25 who play a role in support. Powerhouse’s virtual supports can be accessed by young caregivers anywhere in Canada. While originally focusing on dementia caregivers, the YCA quickly expanded to children and young adults caring for someone with illnesses, disabilities, addiction and other ailments.
From the beginning, the central focus of all YCA Powerhouse programs has been combatting isolation and loneliness by bringing young caregivers together, allowing them to just be kids. As the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada in early March, however, concerns surrounding the effects of staying at home began to arise.
“We had kids reporting that they were feeling even more isolated and lonely. They weren’t able to get a break from caregiving because everybody was isolated at home,” says Lewis. “[Transitioning quickly] was top of mind.”
By March 13, 2020, the decision was made to cancel in-person events and move online to offer support. YCA staff worked to develop virtual Powerhouse programs in order to continue connecting young caregivers, all while making YouTube videos and remotely checking in with families in the interim.
Within a month, free virtual programs were up and running, and have continued to run through to the fall. Facilitated through Zoom video conferencing, programs include hour-long “Time for You” sessions to share experiences with caregivers of similar ages, along with all-ages “Fun With Powerhouse!” programs that include games and crafts, and the four-week “Caring and Connecting” program focused on breaking down barriers through peer connection.
The addition of online programs also contributes to expanding the group’s reach, a trend Lewis hopes to continue. Further efforts are underway to work with provincial caregiver organizations in Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Alberta, and Lewis says she aims to one day have supports in place across Canada, ensuring no young caregiver is left to feel alone.
“We need to get to a place where all caregivers are respected,” says Lewis. “And young carers are a part of that.” [ ]