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American Association of Caregiving Youth Supports Invisible Family Heroes

By Pamela Sosnowski

When family members must act as a caregiver for a loved one, balancing responsibilities with personal needs can be a challenge. But what happens when the caregiver is a child or adolescent? For individuals age 18 and younger caring for a loved one in the household, the pressure to succeed in school adds to an already stressful situation.

The American Association of Caregiving Youth (AACY) addresses the needs of young caregivers in the Boca Raton area, and gives them the support they need to balance an academic and home life. It's the only organization of its kind in the entire U.S., serving a population that doesn't often have a voice of its own. AACY refers to them as "invisible family heroes."

AACY's President and Founder, Connie Siskowski, was inspired to form the non-profit in 1998 after her own personal experience taking care of her grandfather while still in school. "I was a youth caregiver and my personal life was impacted as a result," she says. "When returning to school to earn my PhD to have a bigger voice for all family caregivers, my research uncovered the extent of youth caregiving. The results were so profound, it was compelling to address this hidden population."

When a child becomes "parentified", as most youth caregivers are, they find themselves playing the role of a parent in the household, which can bring on additional stress. The child is forced to grow up too soon, taking on responsibilities in addition to trying to attend school and keep up with the curriculum.

The AACY helps ease the physical, psychological, and emotional stress of caregiving youths by working directly with them and their families to map out a plan of support. "We combine the domains of healthcare, education and the community to address the issues the kids and families face," says Siskowski. "When families will allow it, we conduct a home visit to assess the circumstances and determine if there are additional existing resources to support the family and thus reduce the burden on the child. We work in partnership with the schools and support the kids in school, out of school, and at home."

Among the accolades the AACY has received include Siskowski being named a CNN Hero in 2012, and ABC News' "Person of the Week" in 2013. Despite the media publicity, the non-profit relies heavily on donations to continue to support youth caregivers in the Boca Raton are and organizes an annual "Hearts and Soles" fundraiser and other special events to get the community involved.

With continued public support and recognition, Siskowski hopes her organization will ensure no youth caregiver will ever feel helpless, as she did at times growing up. "As a child, I took care of my grandfather," she states on the organization's website. "How I wish there had been an AACY for me then!"

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