Annual Conference Honors Student Caregivers

Annual Conference Honors Student Caregivers for Selfless Support and Dedication
Posted on 04/22/2022
Cargiver Youth

The word “caregiver” brings to mind adults caring for loved ones with medical or other challenges. But for hundreds of Palm Beach County students, caregiving is part of daily life.

“My 13-year old son is a great, great kid,” Desiréé Warnick said, as she fought back tears. “I’m disabled and he helps me every day with my medication, housework, and anything I need.”

Youth caregivers like Warnick’s son handle serious issues at home such as administering medication, cooking, cleaning, bathing, and assisting with daily life functions of family members, all while trying to balance going to school, completing homework, doing required volunteer hours, and participating in extracurricular activities.

“Students who take part in Caregiving Youth fill a major gap and they often make sacrifices. But no student should ever have to suffer academically or drop out of school because of family caregiving responsibilities,” said Frank Barbieri, School District of Palm Beach County Board Chair. “I applaud all our middle and high school students who are making life easier for family members and I thank Caregiving Youth for their unwavering support of our schools.”

Dr. Connie Siskowski founded the American Association of Caregiving Youth (AACY) in 1998, formerly known as Boca Raton Interfaith in Action. The non-profit organization’s mission is to champion youth who care for chronically ill, injured, elderly, or disabled family members, support their role as caregivers, safeguard them and their families, and celebrate their success in school and life.

“The work is so important for the recognition of the youth caregivers in the Palm Beach County School District, for them personally, for strengthening their families, and for society so that caregiving youth can become healthy, productive adults,” Dr. Siskowski said.

In 2020, an estimated 5.4 million children across America assisted adult family caregivers, according to the AACY.

“Caregiving is having a major impact on children,” said Julie Belkowitz, a Pediatrician, Researcher, and Associate Professor. “Research has indicated students may experience increased stress levels, poor diet, sleep disruption, and even thoughts of suicide.”

The organization held its annual conference on April 21, highlighting powerful youth caregiver stories, important research, and essential resources available for children serving as caregivers.

The conference kicked off with the Olympic Heights Community High School JROTC Color Guard, and catering was prepared and served by the West Boca Raton Community High School Culinary Academy. Barbieri spoke at the event, as did Board Vice Chair, Karen Brill. South Regional Superintendent Dr. Peter Licata received an award for his work with the organization, which occurred during his time as the Principal at Boca Raton Community Middle School, the first Caregiving Youth School in the United States.

Parents receiving care from their children shared their experiences of the immense struggle families face, and the assistance their teen and young children receive from the AACY. Students spoke about the challenges they face with time management, caregiver stress, fatigue, self-care, and daily life. Many spoke about the impact round-the-clock care can have on a young person’s life.

The AACY offers students assistance with academic tutors, mental health professionals, mentors, and much more to help them excel in school and cope with the stress and emotional challenges they face while taking care of loved ones. The School District of Palm Beach County also has well-developed resources to support students.

“All students have access to mental health professionals on our campuses,” said Dr. Mary Claire Mucenic, the District’s Behavioral and Mental Health Services Director. “With parent consent, students are able to meet with mental health professionals free of charge, to help them work through challenges they’re experiencing.”

Mucenic encouraged conference attendees to keep this motto in mind when considering mental health and reaching out for assistance: “It’s okay to be okay. It’s okay to not be okay. It’s also okay to ask for help.”

For more information about the American Association of Caregiving Youth, visit aacy.org or call (800) 508-9618.

Culinary Students ROTC Students and Frank A. Barbieri, Jr., Esq., Board Chair

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