It is not unusual for me to speak to an audience and have someone realize, for the first time, that they were that kid—a caregiving youth. So many people have come up to me or sent me emails recounting their experiences. They always say they wish the support of the Caregiving Youth Project had been around for them.

Sometimes the emails tug at my heartstrings and don't want to leave me. They remind me of all the work ahead…work that can only be done together as awareness is raised and support systems for caregiving youth initiated.

An excerpt from one especially poignant email reads:

I'm 32 now, but I still remember the terrifying years from the time I was 14-20 caring for my mother, who had a stroke and became hemiplegic. I feel like an awful person, but I don't think I'm capable of loving my mom anymore, due to what was robbed of me and my older sister. To this day, I suffer PTSD from the constant screaming and lack of sleep.

In 1997, a stroke robbed me of a pretty amazing mom. A truly wonderful woman who did it all. A single mom who was fun, firm, nurturing, spunky, vivacious and had a killer collection of heels that I enjoyed ambling around the apartment in while she snapped photos with a 35mm camera. A truly beautiful woman in every sense of the word. A woman who bought me and my sister our first gold jewelry.

Nearly overnight mom became a giant tantruming toddler and religious zealot. Now that I'm an adult, I can see how awful becoming permanently disabled was for her. But then, I was very confused and upset and I had just started high school. My sister and I had to toilet her up to five times a night, she had grown quite large so this was a two person effort. For six straight years I had very little sleep. Even parents get a break between children. I fantasized about limiting her liquid intake all the time. My mom told us to never tell anyone at school what we were going through because "social workers would take us away." I'm starting to wish they did. Dressing her in the morning and at night was an hours' ordeal each time. Feeding her was a challenge too. She became incredibly fussy. My life was sapped from me. The screaming. Oh god. The screaming. I still hear it in my nightmares.

I kept fantasizing about my own death to be free. I fell into deep depressions. Now I am a woman with schizoaffective disorder, PTSD, and several other issues. I'm disabled myself. I have vowed to never have children because I would rather die before I put my own child through such a hell.

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I hope that reading this pulls at your heartstrings as it continues to pull on mine. When a single parent or grandparent raising grandchildren becomes ill and children must assume adult responsibilities, we must work to identify, prioritize and support these families.

Foster care is not the answer for anyone, especially the children. With advances in technology and tracking, we can create a better system of care and support. It is an investment in family and our future society. Together we can do this! Join with AACY to create system change!