'˜Our lives would be so much more difficult without Emily'
In many ways, 13-year-old Emily Kay is just your typical teenager.
Obsessed by video games and social networking but shy when asked to talk about herself, she could be any young girl in any part of the country.
But Emily is not your typical teenager.
Living with three severely disabled people has meant that the carefree life that many children lead has often eluded her.
Mum Kerry, and brothers Pete and Chris, all have cerebral palsy - a neurological condition which affects movement and co-ordination.
In addition, dad Eddy - who was involved in a serious road accident 20 years ago - finds it difficult to get around and has constant pain in his leg.
In practice, this meant Emily became the primary carer for her household at the age of seven - constantly on-call and almost never getting a break.
Dad Eddy, 39, explains: “Emily is basically the gopher for the entire family.
“She gets our medicines and brings us drinks to take them with.
“She also helps with Pete’s peg feed and flushes it out but we don’t let her set it up so we can protect her from having to do too much.
“Emily is just there all the time for us - helping with everything that needs doing around the home.
“Our lives would be so much more difficult without her around.”
Over time, the family have developed a way of monitoring each other’s needs which owes much to the wonders of modern technology.
“We communicate using Skype and Facebook - we’ve found it’s better than shouting through the walls,” says Eddy.
Mum Kerry, 40, agrees.
“My mother-in-law calls her the star - she is our star.”
“She gets annoyed with her brothers in the way that teenagers do but she is really upset when they have to go into hospital.”
Kerry’s disability causes falls, spasms and shakes and means that she must use a walker when she ventures out of the house.
Peter, aged 15, and Chris, aged eight, both have the condition worse than their mother and will be in wheelchairs for the rest of their lives.
As well as constant pain, Eddy’s 1996 car accident continues to affect the father-of-three in terms of the mobility and weight issues he has suffered ever since.
With all this responsibility at home, Emily - who only turned 13 just over a month ago - also needs support herself.
After a social services referral to Action for Children’s Derbyshire Young Carers service, Emily now has regular time away from the family home.
The service - which is based in Chesterfield - supports young carers and helps keep their home and school lives on track.
By bringing them together with other young carers, the service offers the chance to take part in social activities, short breaks, school groups and educational sessions as well as to receive emotional support, information and guidance.
“It started about six years ago I think,” says Eddy.
“We can’t go away as a family as we would need two hoists.
“But Emily needs to have her own life and a break from being here.”
The family also say Emily’s school - Brookfield Park on Chatsworth Road - have been ‘really understanding’.
“They are really good with Pete but they are also aware of Emily’s needs and support her as well,” says Kerry.
The school recently recognised Emily’s outstanding contribution to her family at an assembly where she showed off the Children of Courage Award she had just won.
The award - which celebrates the achievements and bravery of children across the region - was presented to Emily at a glitzy ceremony in Solihull in October.
Sat at the computer and trying to keep a low-profile, Emily is clearly uncomfortable at being the topic of conversation.
She does admit to sometimes finding things hard but she enjoys the time she
spends with Derbyshire Young Carers which she describes as ‘fun’.
When she does get time to herself, she enjoys playing computer games, especially the Sims, and likes creative subjects at school.
But, when you tell her how impressed you are by what she does, Emily says it all just comes naturally to her.
“It made me happy to get the award and have the assembly, but it’s just normal to me,” she says.
n To find out more about Action for Children and the Derbyshire Young Carers service visit www.actionforchildren.org.uk.