Becky and Louise are sisters who live with their mam, dad and younger brother, Danny*. He is on the autism spectrum and his behaviour is very challenging.

He can be aggressive and violent, particularly towards Becky, who normally spends a lot of time in her bedroom which she must lock to keep her brother out.

Like many caring families, worry was something that they lived with day-to-day before the pandemic. Danny’s behaviour also made it hard for them to go out together, so some things didn’t immediately change with the start of lockdowns. Danny’s high level of need meant that he was classed as vulnerable and allowed to attend school, though his school day was reduced. As their paternal grandparents were designated as childcare for Danny, the family were able to maintain some social connections and Danny would stay more with his grandparents when the family needed a break.

This did not mean that caring for Danny was not difficult during lockdowns. Rather, caring for Danny is always difficult. The pandemic added a different set of challenges.

When lockdowns began, education became a problem for the sisters. Louise was at primary school and still required a lot of support, while Becky was in Year 7, so relatively new to secondary school. Becky had struggled academically, particularly with math and science subjects. She had received additional support at primary school and still required support in Year 7.

Home-schooling presented several challenges for the sisters, particularly Becky.

Dad was working so couldn’t help through the day. Mam didn’t understand the work that was being set so she couldn’t help either. The family didn’t have a PC and a printer, so they were unable to access schoolwork online and relied on work being sent in the post. This was often inconsistent for Becky. There was no regular timing for work to arrive and she sometimes received packs meant for other children. When work was delayed, sometimes by two weeks, Becky would have to work for longer to try to catch up.

On some occasions, she would work from 9am to 7pm and still couldn’t finish all the assignments on time.

The family were eventually able to get Becky a laptop. Completing work was still difficult as she would have to lock herself in her bedroom where she had a poor Wi-Fi signal. As Danny spent less time at school, his parents had to spend more time supervising him. This led to Becky supporting Louise with her schoolwork. The whole situation was distressing for the family, especially Becky, who was often tearful.

The lack of social contact was difficult for the sisters, especially Louise. Their parents tried to ensure that they had opportunities to stay connected with others and Louise would often spend time chatting to a nearby friend across the garden fences. The Young Carer Service was able to offer some support. Both children applied to the Wellbeing Fund, with Louise getting a tablet so that she could play online with friends, and Becky getting AirPods so that she could listen to music and ignore her brother’s shouting. They also attended online activities with the Service, which helped them to feel more connected.

Both girls are much happier to be back at school. However, the impact of the pandemic is not over. At the time of writing, mam was recovering from covid. This has meant the family having to distance from her, each locking themselves in their room while dad takes care of everyone.

* Names anonymised