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Millions of American Kids "Parenting" Families

Update Date: Oct 10, 2014 05:08 PM EDT

More than a million preteens and adolescents "parent" or care for their parents, according to a new study.

New research shows that 1.3 million kids spend their free time carrying for a family member who suffers from addiction, physical condition, and mental illness.

Researchers said the latest study is important because care-giving youths are a hidden population at risk of developing chronic physical and emotional stress and school failure.

"Today in the U.S., there are many more than the 1.3 million children identified in 2005 who face the challenges of juggling adult-sized responsibilities of caring for ill, injured, aging or disabled family members while trying to keep up at school," Connie Siskowski, RN, PhD, founder and president of the American Association of Caregiving Youth, said in a news release.

Lead researcher Julia Belkowitz, MD, FAAP, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, analyzed 550 intake forms completed by young people in the American Association of Caregiving Youth and 200 family intake forms completed when a social worker conducted a home visit with the families.

The findings revealed that 62 percent of youth caregivers were girls, and the median age of kids in this hidden population was 12 years. The survey also revealed that youth caregivers spend a median of 2.5 hours each school day and four hours each weekend day performing caregiving tasks at home.

Caregiving tasks included assisting family members with getting around, eating, dressing, toileting, bathing and continence care. Caregiving youths also kept the family member company, provided emotional support, cleaned the house, shopped for groceries, administered medications, translated in clinical settings and handled medical equipment.

"This study is an important step toward raising awareness about the issue of caregiving youth," added Belkowitz. "The AACY is developing partnerships throughout the nation to further understand this special population and expand programming to provide the resources and support these young people need and deserve."

Researchers will present the study Saturday, Oct. 11 at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference & Exhibition in San Diego.

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