From helping people in a crisis and leading others, to providing continual care to someone in need and being a good friend, we are celebrating the region’s unsung community heroes. In the final in our series, Natalie Walker speaks to young carer Tom Costello
Starting college is a busy time for teenagers.
New friends, more coursework and a hive of social activity.
But for 16-year-old Tom Costello, that is only the half of his commitments, as he is a carer for his mum, Sally Clark, who has multiple sclerosis (MS) and diabetes.
When he comes home from Lancaster and Morecambe College, he supports Sally by cooking her tea, getting her dressed, bathed and into bed.
He said: “I became a carer for mum when I was nine or 10.
“Mum has had MS for 16 years and it affects her nerves. She can’t move her hands and she can’t walk.
“She needs full assistance in getting dressed and showered. I also give mum insulin injections once a week.
“I cook food, clean the kitchen, do the washing, load and unload the dishwasher and help get my mum to bed.
“Mum has carers in during the day when I am in college, but there is a long gap from 5pm when I return to 8.30pm and that is when I help out.
“I have been doing it so long I have got into a routine. But it has taken a toll on my social life.
“When I was younger it didn’t make much difference as I would stay at home and play on my Xbox but now I am at college, I have new a friendship group. When I go out with my friends and my mum needs help, I come back and help her and then I go back out.
“Most of the time I didn’t have time to do my homework at high school. I would do it after 11pm when my mum didn’t need me.”
Tom, who attended Heysham High School, said he is proud to help him mum and does not see it as a burden or a chore.
He said: “My mum didn’t ask to be disabled. It is not her fault. If I can help in any way I will. My mum brought me up and now I will help her as she helped me when I was younger. She has always been there for me and I will always be there for her.
“I feel it is something I want to do. Further on in life I need to look after myself. If I can look after someone else, I know I can look after myself.”
Tom gets a lot of support from his older brother, Harry, 20, who lives in the family home, as well as other brothers Daniel, 28, and Jason, 24 and his aunts and uncles.
He is also under the guidance of Barnardo’s, which supports young people.
He added: “Jason is mum’s PA and he helps her through the day and Harry, who has ADHD and Asperger’s, lives at home and helps out.
“I also get a lot of support from Barnardo’s. They have always been there for me and they organise outings so I can meet new people and have time away.”
Sally, 52, said: “All my boys are very special to me as they look after me. I appreciate everything Tom does for me. I am very proud.”
Neil Worsley, team manager for Barnardo’s Young Carers Service in Lancashire, said: “At Barnardo’s, we offer Tom and other young carers one to one support with a project worker. We are there when they need us to provide emotional support and assistance in other areas of their life.
“The focus of our work is to ensure the whole family is receiving the right level of care, to liaise with other agencies and to reduce the impact of the young person’s caring responsibilities.
“Our aim is to assess, support and empower these amazing young people such as Tom to have a life outside of caring, ensuring they can engage in school and other activities and socialise with their peers.
“Tom is also an active member of our Lancashire young carers forum, where he provides invaluable help to influence the way the service is run in the county, giving feedback and insight to those involved, such as social workers and health professionals.”
Barnardo’s Lancashire Young Carers Service is commissioned by Lancashire County Council and provides support to young carers aged between seven and 17, and their families, on a one to one basis.
For more information on Barnardo’s Young Carers Service, visit http://www.barnardos.org.uk/what_we_do/our_work/young_carers.htm or call 01772 641 002.