Caretaking affecting students

by Michael Geissler

Nickolaus Dent has to take care of his mother who has been battling HIV for as long as he can remember. He sometimes has to help her get dressed and bathe ever since his father died two years ago, according to

Nickolaus, along with an estimated 10,000 more youth, care for their parents or other family members in Florida, according to the American Association of Caregiving Youth. It affects their ability to participate in school and socialize.  

"It does make it hard to pay attention in class," Nickolaus said. "Helping her out is a bigger priority than going to school and getting [an] education, because I feel if I don't have her, I don't want to go to school. Whatever happens to her happens to me."

A study conducted in 2006 by Civic Enterprises for the Bill and Belinda Gates Foundation said that 22 percent of high school dropouts in the United States leave to take care of a family member.

The American Association of Caregiving Youth, founded by Connie Siskowski, offers activities like field trips, special classes and recreation in order to care for some of the struggling youth.

"We can't change the health condition of the person [receiving care]," Siskowski said. "But what we can do is provide the skills and the resources and the value to the children so that they can have a little more balance in their life. And also so that they know that they're not alone."

She said because people are living longer and staying in their homes, there is more of a burden on the family.

There are at least 1.3 million youth caregivers nationwide, according to a report released in 2005 by the National Alliance for Caregiving. Siskowski and her partners are trying to provide ways to improve the lives of these youth.

"We have definitely turned around lives and kept kids in school because they feel valued," she said. "They never knew anyone noticed or cared."