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Educational Equity




Helping to make dreams a reality for young carers

11 Apr 2024

Madeleine Buchner had to navigate a challenging path as a girl. She was a carer for her brother, who experienced chronic illnesses and allergies, while also supporting her mother through breast cancer and subsequent health issues.

“I grappled with feelings of isolation and struggled to comprehend my own emotions,” Madeleine says. “The weight of caregiving responsibilities often left me feeling adrift, unsure of where I belonged in the world. It was a journey marked by loneliness and a lack of understanding about my own needs.”

However, the experiences also led to a powerful desire to prevent other young carers from facing the same sense of isolation and uncertainty – resulting in Madeleine’s creation of Little Dreamers Australia in 2009.

As CEO, Madeleine runs what is now Australia’s leading young carer organisation, supporting young people who provide unpaid care for a family member affected by disability, chronic or mental illness, substance use, or frail age, in Victoria, NSW, and Queensland. Evidence indicates that in every classroom, there are approximately two or three young carers, half of whom struggle to attend school daily (Moore et al., 2009). In the past 15 years, Little Dreamers has advocated for changing in the sector, developing best-practice programs and helping thousands of young people and their families. 

The Ross Trust provided a one-off $40,000 grant to Little Dreamers in 2021, and after an update meeting last year with Madeleine, has now committed a further $120,000 over two years for The Young Carer Support Project. The new program will provide individual support addressing school refusal, attendance, and disengagement in Victoria. 

Madeleine says the funding will enable Little Dreamers to engage a Family Support Worker to provide up to six months of case management over two years to 40 young carers through individualised interventions including goal setting, classroom adaptations, and timetable modifications. 

“Through my own experiences, I learned firsthand the transformative power of dedicated support and understanding,” Madeleine says. “Every young carer deserves the chance to thrive.”

Madeleine tells the story of one disengaged young person the organisation has already helped: “They were shouldering significant caregiving responsibilities at home, resulting in feelings of loneliness, mental health challenges, and involvement in risky behaviours to fill their time. Our Family Support Worker collaborated closely with them and their school to create a supportive environment.”

Measures implemented included timetable reviews and adaptions that accommodated caregiving responsibilities, help with school uniforms, accompanied bus rides for reassurance, and work with other organisations to support the whole family during the transition back to the classroom. 

Importantly, Little Dreamers stays in touch with students throughout their education, continuing to provide sporadic support as needed, ensuring they have the resources and encouragement to achieve their goals.

The Ross Trust’s Senior Program Manager Meghan Weekes says the new program will bring about increased self-confidence and improved self-perceived mental health, leading to more young carers finishing their secondary education and increased opportunities for employment. 

“Academically, these students fall behind their peers by up to 1.5 years in NAPLAN testing scores, their likelihood of disengagement from work or study is nearly double that of their non-caring counterparts, and the mental health impact is profound,” Meghan says. “We also know that young carers are less likely to complete secondary school and often fear bullying.”

Meghan says the support from The Ross Trust is particularly important at a time when demand for Little Dreamers' services is increasing.

Madeleine said the organisation recently needed to restructure and reorient and temporarily suspend programs without full funding.

“Though we may have temporarily scaled back in some areas, we have significantly increased our delivery in our remaining areas, and our renewed focus ensures that we can deliver our services effectively and sustainably, to expand our reach once again in the future,” Madeleine says.

“We have seen some significant changes in how the Australian government provides support to young carers over the past few years through various programs and initiatives, including payments and allowances and a bursary program … but there is still a lot of room for improvement in government support and recognition for young carers.”

Madeleine said she was very grateful to The Ross Trust and encouraged others to consider supporting the organisation.

 “This financial year to date we have already delivered over 10,000 hours of support to young carers,” she said. “Our young carers are all individuals who require varied support and would all benefit from one-to-one support and engagement from a Family Support Worker.

“If there were other grants available for this project, we would employ an additional three Family Support Workers in Victoria, and also introduce Family Support Workers into NSW and QLD where we currently do not have funding for case management services.”

Find out more about Little Dreams Australia