There is a vast body of research on the impact of HIV/AIDS on children, but little which acknowledges the role of children in providing care and support for ailing parents or ageing guardians. There has been a tendency to downplay the active role and agency of young carers, with young carers often represented as victims of damaging circumstances that compromise their psychosocial well-being. To counter-balance this tendency, and to develop the critical trend that views children as social actors, we explore how young carers cope with challenging circumstances, often with skill and ingenuity, drawing on data collected in Western Kenya in 2007. Forty-eight young carers (aged 11–17) used photography and drawing to provide accounts of their coping strategies. They described 240 of the resulting photographs and drawings in writing. In addition, 34 individual interviews and 2 group discussions were conducted with children to explore the findings further and 10 individual interviews with local adults were conducted to elucidate the dynamics between adults and children. Our data revealed that young carers cope by mobilising social support, engaging in income generating activities and constructing positive social identities around their caring roles. We conclude that children's ability to cope is determined by the extent to which they are able to participate in their community and negotiate support from it.