Little Dreamers believes in an equal world for Young Carers. With an estimated one in 10 Australians growing up caring for a family member with a chronic illness, mental illness, disability or addiction, the organisation delivers empowering and proactive support programs to reduce risk factors and improve health, wellbeing and quality of life. We spoke to Madeleine Buchner OAM about her organisation’s work.

Tell us a bit about you and Little Dreamers

Hello! I’m Maddy, and I’m the Founder and CEO of Little Dreamers. We’re Australia’s leading Young Carer organisation, supporting young people aged four to 25 who care for a family member with a disability, illness or addiction.

I was 16 when I created and launched Little Dreamers, with the vision of addressing a significant gap in the healthcare system that should never have existed. Who was caring for the Young Carers? My own experience inspired this question as a carer for my brother, who has a range of chronic illnesses, and my mum, now a breast cancer survivor. I wanted to provide the support network that I so desperately needed at the time but didn’t have access to.

Twelve years later, we’re a team of 45 staff and 150 volunteers across VIC, NSW and QLD, supporting more than 5,000 Young Carers nationwide. Little Dreamers programs are co-designed, developed and led by Young Carers for Young Carers, providing wrap-around support that caters to various groups, locations and needs. We’re a fast-moving, proactive organisation driven by our values – hungry, humble and kind – which sit at the core of everything we do.

What support do Little Dreamers provide?

From first-hand experience and research, we know that taking on caring responsibilities can have significant long term impacts on a young person. In 2016, The Australian Child Wellbeing Project identified Young Carers as one of Australia’s most at-risk groups of young people.

Notably, Young Carers often report feeling socially isolated, show signs of poor mental health, and have difficulty transitioning into education and employment. Young Carers are almost twice as likely to be disengaged from school as their peers, and two in three Young Carers experience mental health challenges.

That’s where we come in. Little Dreamers’ range of direct support programs targets five critical areas of risk: identity, health and wellbeing, social connection, education and employment, and financial literacy.

Our programs include Dream Experiences, school holiday respite, mentoring and tutoring, in-school education and training, an online peer support platform, and a tailored personal development program.

Within the wider community, we also focus on raising awareness and advocating for policy change, which has recently seen us engage 15 Young Carer Ambassadors from around Australia.

What will the funding from Third Link help you to achieve?

2020 showed us, more than ever before, the importance of our one-of-a-kind programs. We saw a 218% increase in requests for support at the peak of COVID-19, which has remained consistent ever since. The pandemic compounds Young Carers’ challenges, including reduced access to essential services and support workers, difficulty balancing increased caring responsibilities with remote learning, and heightened unemployment rates and financial stress in the family.

We’re passionate about ensuring Young Carers can experience a positive childhood and access the same opportunities as their peers. Funding from Third Link will take us one step closer to achieving this reality, supporting us to deliver impactful programs that focus on connection, wellbeing and development.

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