Caring for a sick relative is no easy task especially when you are only a child yourself. Some youngsters are forced to cope alone but thanks to 121 Youth Befriending, help is at hand.

Reporter LOUISE TWEDDELL met two young carers to see how they juggle family with school work ...

Chatting to 16-year-old Sam Norris you'd have no idea of the responsibility resting upon her young shoulders.

Sam is every inch the modern British teenager but behind the jeans, gold jewellery and confident smile is a serious young woman, and it's no surprise.

While her peers are out dancing or watching television Sam looks after her 15-year-old autistic brother and her epileptic 38-year-old mum.

She says she has cared for them both for as long as she can remember and the strain led to depression.

Sam's day begins at 6am when, after dressing herself, she prepares her brother for the day ahead by giving him his breakfast, medication and seeing him off to school.

When classes at Dartford Technology College finish at 4pm, the GCSE student returns home to cooking, cleaning and ironing.

After running her brother a bath and administering another round of medicine, she puts him to bed then helps her mum do the same.

Until a year ago she thought her future looked bleak but after joining Dartford-based 121 she now feels more positive about her role as a young carer.

The charity provides respite care and support for youngsters aged between six and 16, across west Kent.

Sam, of Tree Estate, Dartford, said: "Before I joined 121 I had depression and felt really alone. I used to feel so angry and dread what the day would bring.

"I'd wonder why I was the only teenager having to go through this.

"But as soon as I met other young carers I realised I was not alone. I saw I was in the same boat as many others and began to feel better and make friends."

The teenager was given a volunteer befriender who rebuilt her confidence and gave her a shoulder to lean on.

Sam said: "I'm looking at my future positively now. I hope to pass my exams and become a nurse or a television presenter.

"Despite everything, I would not change my life. I love my mum and my brother and I'd never change how they are."

Her friend Lisa Morris, 16, has been a 121 member for the past four years. Like Sam she looks after her 40-year-old mum who has breast cancer. She also helps out with her three younger brothers, aged seven, 13 and 14.

Lisa, of Temple Hill, follows a similar daily routine of caring, cooking, cleaning and providing emotional support.

Outgoing, friendly and oozing confidence, Lisa is not what you would expect from a youngster who has spent most of her teens caring for her family.

The A-level student said: "I'm a second mum to them all. It's a lot to cope with but I've learned to deal with it. 121 has taught me to cope and helped my to understand my mum's illness.

"The charity takes us all on respite days and gives us support. I used to be shy but now I have loads more confidence.

"Had I not found 121 I'd never have passed nine GSCEs or developed an outgoing personality."

Far from feeling down about her situation Lisa added: "Being a young carer is difficult and sometimes you feel like it's all too much but with the right help and support you can do anything."

What is 121 youth befriending?

  • 121 was established 19 years ago. It helps more than 80 young carers and socially excluded youngsters aged between six and 16. A carer is anyone who looks after a family member due to illness or disability.
  • The charity has five paid full-time project workers and 20 befrienders, who volunteer two to four hours of their time each week.
  • 121 received £62,000 of funding from the Home Office last year. In total it was given £267,984 in grants and donations in 2004/5.
  • The cash is used to fund day trips to places including London Zoo and Southend's Adventure Land to provide respite for the young carers.
  • For more information or to volunteer as a befriender visit