Courtney’s story: drawing on lived experience to support young carers

Courtney YC interview picture

Published May 01 2023

Courtney Howard joined Carer Gateway as a Young Carer Engagement Advisor in February 2023. A carer since she was seven years old, Courtney brings unique insights from her own lived experience as a carer to her role.

Sometimes children – even very young ones – find themselves taking on caring roles. Courtney’s mum, Marg (a solo parent) was diagnosed with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (MS) when Courtney was seven years old and Courtney’s brother, Blake, was just three.

Courtney says her caring role has constantly evolved over the years as her own capability increased, and as her mum's health improved or declined in line with her MS.

“Being a carer quickly became my norm; I didn't know any different. We had a home care package in place and some great family friends too. That meant we were still able to participate in after school activities that we enjoyed, like dancing and scouts,” remembers Courtney.

“My brother and I helped around the house and took on more responsibilities as we got older. We also had constant people – carers – coming through the doors, so there were always new faces. Change was something we got used to.”

Courtney took on responsibilities like cooking, laundry and helping to pay bills, and sometimes stepped into a quasi-parenting role with her brother. The siblings were able to care for their mum overnight when she needed it, then get their own breakfasts and walk themselves to school.

Looking back, Courtney recognises that she experienced anxiety around change and ‘what ifs’ but says a school counsellor helped in primary school. At high school, another connected her with young carer support groups, where she found friendship and camaraderie with others like herself.

In 2017-2018 Courtney spent two years in the UK, and now lives in Melbourne with her partner and Shih Tzu dog, Jazzy. She speaks with her mum over the phone every day, and travels to visit and help out on free weekends. She’s also able to take leave from work to care for Marg during relapses.

She has been a Young Carer Engagement Advisor with Carer Gateway since February 2023. Now she’s working in carer support, Courtney wants to ensure that young carers have access to all the support and opportunities they can.

“I spend lots of time getting to know young carers and identifying their stresses, then working out how we can help. It might be financial stress or school stress or personal stress. It helps to be a good listener!”

Courtney encourages young carers to reach out and advocate for themselves.

“Don't undermine your experience and what you do because someone else might seem like they’re doing it harder, or because you don't identify as a carer. Remember that while your caring role is important and does matter, you matter as well. Please reach out for support and get help to find things that work for you.”