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Intimate AP package explores the burdens borne by young children providing essential care for parents

Using a tablet screen, Rupesh Kotiya, left, communicates with his son Ronan, 11, who holds a medical suction tube at their home in Plano, Texas, April 10, 2022. Ronan helps care for his father who suffers from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Millions of Americans with serious health problems depend on children ages 18 and younger to provide some or all of their care at home. An exact number is hard to pin down, but researchers think millions of children are involved in caregiving in the U.S. (AP Photo / LM Otero)

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Indianapolis-based health writer Tom Murphy was doing routine source work, talking with an advocacy group for patients with Lou Gehrig’s disease about obstacles in caregiving, when he heard something arresting: Often, it’s children who provide the care.

With that spark, Murphy dug into the research and found that millions of school-aged children across the country are doing heavy-duty caregiving tasks. And he knew that to make a story as compelling as it deserved, he’d need to find a family willing to let journalists see everything they’re going through.

Murphy’s reporting connected him with an academic who was planning a training session in Dallas for kids in exactly such a situation,and he leaned on that source to help find a receptive family. Murphy and New York-based video journalist Shelby Lum worked for weeks to ensure they could fully show what a family goes through every day.

In they end they discovered a family that was not only cooperative but compelling: The Kotiya/Pandya family allowed Murphy,Lum and Dallas photographer Mat Otero to spend parts of four days in their Plano,Texas,home,shadowing their young caregivers,Ronan,11,and Keaton,9, and even let the journalists witness a therapy session the boys attended.

With that access,the trio produced a text narrative,video and photos so rich and engaging that readers on AP News spent an average of more than 2 1/2 minutes with the package,a remarkable amount of time. Lum’s full video netted 135,000 views,while two shorter clips for social media pulled in a combined 107,000 views on Twitter.

The package had impact too,including a Texas woman whose husband died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis three years ago,and who called to see if she could send some of the money he had set aside to go to a family in need of help.

For shining a delicate but bright light on the heart-wrenching reality of grade schoolers having to be as adept with a breathing machine as with Legos,the team of Murphy, Lum and Otero earn AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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