She may be only 17 but Niamh Latham already has a wealth of experience in dealing with life’s challenges.

As well as providing invaluable support for her autistic younger brother, Frank, Niamh has also helped her mum, Helen, in overcoming breast cancer. In doing so, she has displayed huge qualities, and is now calling for changes in the way the education system supports young carers.

I want to campaign to try to make a difference, and additional support for young carers is something I feel really strongly about. There are so many young people carrying out caring roles, and the support needs to be there for them.

Niamh, who lives in Whitley Bay, is now studying for her A-levels after her GCSEs were cancelled due to the pandemic.

Her brother Frank, who is 18 months younger, is non-verbal, so part of Niamh’s support for him was to learn sign language so they could communicate. Their mum was a teacher for 30 years and their dad, Dorian, has a busy career as an environmental consultant, so Niamh’s support around the house, and helping to care for Frank was crucial.

Those additional responsibilities became even more important when her mum was diagnosed with breast cancer when Niamh was in Year 7 at school. Happily, Helen is now clear of the disease after extensive treatment.

Since October 2018, Frank has been part of NEAS's children’s residential care provision. And Niamh says the benefits to both him and the rest of the family have been enormous.

“We used to see him every week before the pandemic, but we haven’t been able to see him regularly since last March,” she explained. “That’s been really hard, but the North East Autism Society has helped him come on in leaps and bounds. He’s made such progress and the care the staff give him also does us as a family a lot of good too because we know he’s in very good hands.”

Despite not being able to see Frank face to face, the family have stayed in touch with regular telephone and Facetime calls, so Niamh’s sign language skills are still proving invaluable.

She has become part of a youth forum and young adults’ group at the North Tyneside Carers Centre, in North Shields, and is determined to use her voice to campaign for more support for young carers.

Niamh was involved in a podcast, produced by the youth forum, to help spread information and break down the stigma about young carers, and her story was also recently recorded by BBC Radio 1 as part of Comic Relief.

I just believe that if you have an opportunity to change a situation, you should take it.

Niamh has benefitted from young carer support in her own school, but believes every school should have at least one specialist teacher trained in understanding the additional pressures young carers face. She also advocates young carers’ groups being set up in all schools, colleges and universities.

“Young people can find themselves as carers for a whole range of reasons – it might be a mental health issue, or a long-standing health condition, that puts them in that position. But, whatever the circumstances, young carers should have the life they deserve, so that support needs to be there for them,” she says.

“In my case, it hasn’t always been easy, especially when my mum was ill, but I think I achieved a lot as a young carer, and as a person generally. Despite everything that’s happened, I managed to carry on my education, so I’m proud of myself.”

Niamh’s aim after A-levels is to go to university to study criminology and pursue a career as a barrister, although she hasn’t discounted politics.

“I wouldn’t mind being Prime Minister one day – and, if I was, support for young carers would definitely be part of my manifesto!” she smiles.