FORT MYERS, Fla -- A Florida nonprofit is working to address a big need it says you don't hear about often. Millions of kids currently serve as family caregivers for their sick loved ones, which is a big task for a child.
The American Association for Caregiving Youth (AACY) is working with state leaders to get more funding to support them.
COVID-19 has only made it more challenging for the roughly 300,000 children in Florida who are dealing with this. Caregiving children have been extremely isolated during this time because their sick family members are at severe risk for the virus.
That's meant learning from home, even when schools reopened. AACY said balancing those challenges with the tall task of caregiving is tough to manage.
"It's very difficult for them to learn virtually,” said Connie Siskowski, president and founder of The American Association for Caregiving Youth (AACY). “Sometimes, um, they don't have privacy in order to be able to focus or the person who is ill may have extra needs and interrupt them. And then, you know, there are the families who have been affected directly by COVID,” she added.
Over 100 kids the group works to support got D's and F's in school during this time.
AACY works to help with tutoring. It also provides support in a number of other ways including delivering food, help with home care, and paying bills.
When it comes to raising awareness about the support these kids need, Siskowski said something that The Department of Health did recently shows progress.
"For the first time ever in our country, Florida included a question about caregiving on a survey that's statewide called the Youth Risk Behavior survey and it showed there were more than 290,000 youth who are caregiving in the state of Florida," said Siskowski.
That boils down to 23.6% of middle school students and 16.4% of high school students. This is a group of kids Siskowski said are statistically more likely to have suicidal ideations and depression. But she said that with support, it doesn't have to be that way.
The new data has led The Florida Department of Adolescent Health to start an awareness campaign. And AACY is working closely with State Senator Lori Berman. They're trying to get the governor to form a statewide Family Caregiver Task Force that will include children.
It's also working to get funding to expand its efforts to other counties, including in Southwest Florida.