ACU (Australian Catholic University)


Issue 1, Winter 2011

Social life

Social life

The pressure of completing the HSC, choosing a career path and starting a university degree is more than some young people can handle. Maggie Malak took that all on, and more, when she volunteered to become a full-time carer for her mother.

When ACU student Maggie Malak was just five years old and her sister nine, their mother had an accident which left her with a spinal cord injury and in need of full-time care.

Maggie and her sister stepped up to the challenge and decided to become young carers for their mum.

A young carer is defined as a child or young person under the age of 25 who provides support for a family member who has a long-term disability, mental illness, other illness, or drug or alcohol problem. In Australia today there are in excess of 340,000 young carers.

Many young carers don't finish high school or go on to tertiary education.

"We both managed to get to year 12 and finish but it was always hard when we had to take days off school," Maggie said, reflecting on the challenges they faced.

"You don't always find that teachers understand just how much young carers have to do.

"Statistically, most young carers don't finish school, but my sister and I just kept fighting."

The 23-year-old said that apart from the responsibilities that come with being a carer, one of the most difficult things to do is establish your own identity away from that label.

It's also difficult when the time comes for carers to make serious life decisions.

"When you get older it's a question of: Should I go to university? Or move out? Can I? Both my sister and I really struggled with those decisions," she said. "I've learnt that being a young carer shouldn't define you, but it takes a long time to feel that way."

Through respite camps arranged by Young Carers NSW, Maggie was able to feel more confident about her future and how her role as a full-time carer fits in. She is still involved with the camps, but as a team leader, helping other young people to get the break and advice they need.

Now in her third year of a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Social Work at the University's Strathfield Campus, Maggie is aiming for a career in social work.

"If it wasn't for my life experiences, I probably wouldn't have gone into social work, but I'd like to work with young people," she said.

"It's a very personal thing for me. When I was younger it took such a long time before we got any support. So I'm not hoping to save the world, but I am hoping I can go in and help people with their lives, and let young carers know that there is someone looking out for them."

If you would like more information about young carers, please visit the Young Carers NSW website:

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