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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 November 2006, 10:38 GMT
Lifetime of being a carer, aged 5
Janine Gunstone and son Michael
Michael has never known a time when he was not a carer
Young carers struggle without the help they urgently need, often due to fear that they may be separated from their families, a report suggests. Michael is one such carer.

He is just like any other five-year-old - but unlike most of his peers Michael Gunstone has had to learn to look after himself as well as his mother.

Michael is one of around 2,000 young carers supported by Barnardo's - but the charity says many more are going unnoticed and unsupported.

Michael, from Pontyberem near Llanelli, south Wales, has never known a time when he was not a carer.

His mother, Janine, was diagnosed with a degenerative disease when Michael was barely four months old.

She went from being fit and active to being disabled.

'Doing more and more'

Janine manages alone with some help from her father but Michael has had to learn to care for her and to fend for himself in the house.

She said: "I remember one time when Michael was about 10 months old and he was crawling along on the floor.

"I was on crutches at the time and I collapsed in a heap on the floor and my crutches went from under me. Michael laughed. He thought it was a game.

"So I laughed too and said 'mummy's sticks'. He crawled and pulled the crutches over to me.

"As time has gone on, I have seen him do more and more for me."

He needs time to be a child and not worry about me
Janine Gunstone

Michael now helps his mother to the toilet and shower. He can fold and unfold her wheelchair and dismantle it to fit in the boot of a taxi.

"At night he will come into my room sometimes to check to see if I need to go to the toilet, and he will ask me if I have taken my tablets," said Janine.

"As well as looking after me, he has learned to look after himself. If he falls he knows I cannot get to him, so he picks himself up and comes to me.

"It has made him think before he does anything - that has become second nature to him.

"He has learnt to butter bread and make himself a sandwich when he is hungry."

Time to be a child

The two have fun together when at home - cuddling up on the sofa reading a book or playing a game. But Janine is aware that Michael is always looking out for her.

She finally phoned social services for help after an incident in which she collapsed and knocked her head and then lay unconscious for a while with Michael looking after her.

When she came to her son had pulled a blanket over to her and was smiling, saying: "Mum, I think you need to phone a friend."

Since then Michael has been referred to a Barnardo's young carers' project.

"He needs time to be a child and not worry about me," said Janine.

"When he is with young carers, he has time to himself when he can be just a child."

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