They cook, clean and supervise: Thousands of children have to look after their mentally or physically ill parents because they lack the support from either society or the state.
225.000 – this is the amount of children in Germany per year that have to look after their sickly parents without getting any help from the outside. Nevertheless, this is an official number and there are, for sure, numerous cases that have not been recorded yet.
There are many reasons why families with a disabled parent do not seek aid, but according to Mrs. Metzing-Blau there are some specific reasons that explain this behaviour. Children often do not show that they are in need, because they tend to wear their “masks”, claiming that everything is alright. Most of them fear that their family might be torn apart if their father or mother is put into a hospital. Furthermore, they often fear that the situation might worsen if outsiders interfere.
Not only do personal reasons make it really hard to seek help, but looking at it from a different perspective, we realize it is a Sisyphean task to accomplish. As Carmen Molitor from the Caritas institution said, parents in Germany can get support only if the children are under twelve years of age. In addition, there is still the chance that the 24-hour caregiver needed will not be paid by the health insurance, as stated by Vivien Leute in an article published at “Morgenpost”. Therefore, appropriate help is not always affordable, or even possible.
As a consequence, the minors, not even 12 yet, try to take over the sick parent’s part and that consumes more than 20 hours a week for some 20% of them, according to a study of the University of Witten Herdecke. Especially older siblings are heavily affected by having to look after one of their parents as, well as their younger brother or sister.
Also, one in three children looking after his or her sick parent has to sacrifice 15 hours a week, on average, doing errands that would normally be done by a parent. Many children want to preserve the smooth relation between their parents, especially when one is mentally unstable. Therefore, they attempt to do his or her duties, while the other is away.
Taking care of a sick parent either because of a physical or psychological disability, such as psychosis or a stroke, leaves a permanent stain on the child. According to the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth of Germany, these children are often isolated and fail to spend time on things appropriate for their age as an indirect consequence. Stuck in a vicious circle where they are unable to tell what’s happening to them, many opt to flee in their own imaginary world, distancing themselves from reality. This makes them often appear really inconspicuous, but in fact it’s just a “cri de Coeur” for someone to talk to, because these children often feel the need to speak to someone they trust. It’s impossible for them to be able to catch up with school, considering the many challenges they have to face on a day-to-day basis.