Dr. Julia Belkowitz works to gain recognition for children who have to care for others at home
Photograph by Tom Salyer
y most recent estimates, there are more than five million children under the age of 18 who provide significant or substantial care for relatives or household members. For the most part, they do it without recognition or support.
Julia Belkowitz, M.D., M.P.H. ’16, assistant dean for student affairs and associate professor of pediatrics at the Miller School, wants to change that.
“These are kids who take on the role of caregivers for family members or other loved ones with physical or mental health issues, disabilities, or issues relating to aging, and it’s a hidden and vulnerable population,” she said. “Most people have not heard of these kids.”
For several years Dr. Belkowitz has been an advisor to the nonprofit American Association of Caregiving Youth, the only national organization to recognize this group and bring their situation to light.
“I see one of my roles as helping raise awareness about this important group of children. We need to create a whole army of advocates for caregiving youth,” she said. “They generally aren’t recognized as a defined group, like adults who serve as caregivers are. These are kids, many of them starting while still in elementary school, who are taking care of their parents, grandparents, or siblings. The kids take on these roles out of love and responsibility, but it can impact their development, and can potentially have mental health consequences. They miss out on a lot. They worry about that person at home. There can also be some great rewards, such as building empathy, but they are mostly not acknowledged or supported by medical providers and the community in general.”
The goal of the AACY, is to provide skill sessions, support groups, respite camps and more to give these kids an opportunity to learn, to decompress and to adjust to a life many never expected. There are also lobbying efforts planned to gain recognition and financial assistance for this growing group.
“This organization is incredible, and it’s a privilege for me to be associated with it,” she said. “My responsibility is to help spread the word.”
— Chuck Carlson