Christopher Knaus June 25, 2012
Young carer Grace Keenan (right) from Cook with friend Niamh Edgar play in the Rototron at Questacon during FESTofALL - a day of fun for young carers. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
Grace Keenan may only be eight years old, but the stress, frustration, and often overwhelming burden of being a carer have already become all too familiar.
From a very young age, Grace has forgone many aspects of a typical childhood to help look after her sister, who has a neural disorder.
She has taught herself to be patient, tolerant, and compassionate in a home where things can be ''quite volatile'', according to her mother Renee Keenan.
But Grace was able to leave all that behind yesterday and enjoy the fun, excitement, and much-needed normality of being a kid at Questacon.
She joined 5000 young carers across the country as part of the first FESTofALL .
The festival, funded by the federal government, gives young carers a respite from the burdens of caring and allows them to meet others facing similar challenges at a series of events across the country, including a headline show at Luna Park in Sydney.
''It's a bit hard sometimes,'' Grace said.
''I'm really excited because today I can just forget about all that and just move onto [Questacon],'' she said.
But the stress of caring may have already taken a toll on young Grace.
She has developed a still undiagnosed chronic illness that causes joint pains, chronic infections, skin problems and high temperatures.
She regularly falls ill and has made repeated trips to Sydney to see various specialists.
Mrs Keenan said doctors were exploring whether the illness was related to her daughter's stress.
''It can be very stressful, at times the house can be quite volatile and very noisy,'' Mrs Keenan said.
''Sometimes there's that feeling of walking on egg shells constantly, and for a little person that's hard to get your head around, that no one else seems to be doing this,'' she said.
But the situation Grace has found herself in is not as uncommon as many may think.
There are about 380,000 carers under the age of 25 across the country, with 170,600 under 18. They spend an average of 27 hours a week caring for family or loved ones, and 54 per cent say they are sleep deprived.
For many young people, caring can significantly impact on the ability to keep friends and participate at school.
About 66 per cent of young carers report being unable to participate at school, and just over half say it's difficult to make or keep friends due to their caring roles.
Events were held at Luna Park in Sydney, Circus Oz in Melbourne, Movie World on the Gold Coast, Perth Zoo, The Beachouse in Adelaide, Crocodylus Park and Zoo in Darwin, and Zoodoo Wildlife Park in Richmond.