There are around half a million young Australians providing care to their loved ones. Little Dreamers is an organisation that aims to support those young Australian’s, giving them access to supports and services that make life just that little bit easier.

Amazing is how eight-year-old Isabelle describes her experience with Little Dreamers. The grade two student has been involved with the organisation for only two years, but mum Kylie says it’s already been incredibly beneficial for her daughter.

‘Little Dreamers has helped her understand that she’s not alone,’ Kylie said.

‘There’s a lot of kids like her and Little Dreamers gives her the opportunity to meet them.’

For Little Dreamers co-founder, Madeleine Buchner, introducing young carers to each other is one of the most important things the organisation does.

‘When you think you’re the only one who is doing anything, or you think you’re the only one who understands, or nobody gets it, we’re showing them that there is actually a community of people around them who get it,’ Madeleine said.

Madeleine grew up with a sick little brother and so she understands exactly what the young people engaged with Little Dreamers are going through.

‘Young people who provide unpaid caring roles are often quite overlooked in their family structure, especially in families where the young person may not be the primary carer…a lot of these kids grow up faster than they should,’ she said.

From little things big things grow

When she was a young carer, Madeleine received support from an organisation who provided her with a mentor. And it’s here that the genesis of Little Dreamers can be traced.

‘We started with one program, which was our Dream Experience Program,’ Madeleine said. ‘And over the last 10 years… we’ve developed more programs, we’ve got more funding and now we work with about 2500 kids per year across the whole of Australia to improve their quality of life across the five main risk areas: education, employment, social connectedness, mental health and financial disadvantage.’

Today, alongside the Dream Experience Program, Little Dreamers run school holiday programs across the country, one-on-one mentoring programs and a Big Dreamers program. They also run a personal development and leadership program for 13-18-year-olds, and online peer support platform called The Dreamers Hub and a school’s program that aims to support and train teachers to identify and support young people with caring roles in their classrooms.

Getting out and having fun

Isabelle has already spent time in the Little Dreamers School Holiday program, which is all about ‘getting out and having fun’ Kylie says. This year, Isabelle also received a Dream Experience which included a family stay in the city and tickets to Hugh Jackman’s concert.

‘She said it was the best day ever! Seeing her huge smile when the concert started was priceless and I know she will remember it for the rest of her life.’ Kylie said.

For Kylie, that Isabelle has had those experiences is very special given how tough and scary things can sometimes be. Isabelle’s younger brother Mitchell was born at 29 weeks and suffered a brain haemorrhage. As a result, he lives with cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

‘[The Dream Experience] was given to Isabelle to say thank you for all the incredible work she does to help us look after Mitchell,’ Kylie said.

‘Having a brother with a disability and high medical needs is hard, it’s very stressful for her and she sacrifices a lot. In saying that, having Mitchell as her brother has taught her to be patient, compassionate and caring to all. With Little Dreamers help we know she will grow up to be an amazing young lady.’

‘We are very lucky to be a part of the Little Dreamers family.’

Reducing risk factors

For Madeleine and Little Dreamers, the work the organisation does is not about limiting or reducing the number of young carers in Australia.

‘We are never going to reduce, or I don’t think we’re ever going to reduce the number of kids who take on caring roles in their families,’ she said.

‘But we can reduce the risk factors that they face and increase the support that they receive. And so, it’s important that Little Dreamers exists to provide that opportunity for our kids and make sure that they do have access to the childhood that every child deserves.’

Find more information about Little Dreamers here.

Dreaming Big originally appeared in Issue 29 of Inform Magazine.

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