Research released for Carers Week (7th – 13th June 2021) has found that carers lost, on average, 25 hours of support a month they previously had from services or family and friends before the pandemic. In this blog, Clare Kassa, Chief Executive of the charity Sibs, shares how parents can support siblings who help care for a disabled child.
Growing up with a disabled brother or sister, means that life at home can feel very different for many children and young people. Many siblings learn skills and develop abilities from their experiences but might struggle to get the attention from their parents they would like. Siblings can have extra worries and responsibilities and find it hard to focus on schoolwork and their own lives and interests. It is important that the positive impact siblings bring to their families and the friendship, and support, they provide to their brothers and sisters is acknowledged and celebrated.
Half of all young carers in the UK are carers for their brother or sister. Sibling young carers are a hidden group, whose caring responsibilities often go unrecognised. Many siblings undertake practical tasks with their brother or sister such as feeding, administering medication, lifting and handling, sitting, and helping in the night. They may also support parents, by listening to their worries, doing housework, going shopping or cooking meals. Many siblings also offer emotional support such as helping their brother or sister to socialise and teaching them skills such as reading.
Throughout the pandemic, many more siblings have become young carers as families have relied on their support when external services have had to withdraw. Many families of disabled children would struggle to cope without their support and siblings are acutely aware of the challenges their families face.
How can parents support siblings?
Parents often feel worried and guilty about what the impact might be on their sibling child. It can feel like a struggle to meet the different needs of all the children in the family. However, there are some simple things which can make a really big difference to siblings. Here are some top tips.
1. Spend time each day with siblings one to one
2. Talk about disability from an early age
3. Acknowledge the negative feelings as well as the positive ones
4. Teach siblings fun activities they can do with their brother or sister
5. Give siblings choice about spending time with their brother or sister
6. Limit the type and amount of care and support that siblings take on
7. Take action on issues that affect your siblings’ wellbeing and education
8. Talk to siblings in the teenage years about plans for the future
9. Give siblings permission to enjoy and live their own lives
10. Celebrate siblings’ achievements.
Asking for help
As well as helping with the difficulties, good support helps to affirm the many positive aspects of sibling relationships and family life for siblings. It is important to remember that many siblings do not provide care, yet still have fewer choices and opportunities than their peers. Speaking to schoolteachers about your sibling child and taking short break help (whether formal or informal) is vital for whole family wellbeing.
What help is available?
YoungSibs (www.youngsibs.org.uk) is an online information service for siblings aged 7-17. The website provides a range of resources including age-appropriate information on disabilities and health conditions. There is lots of information about how to cope with sibling life at school, maintaining good mental health and tips about what siblings can do if they are worried about the future. Importantly, there is also information about finding ways to develop positive relationships with their brothers and sisters. Sibs also writes monthly blogs for children on relevant topics such as celebrating family occasions, changing schools, or learning about new diagnoses. There is also the opportunity for siblings to write to a sibling advisor with any specific worries or problems, receiving a personalised response from the Sibs Team.
What other sibling support is available?
Having opportunities for siblings to meet each other is a valuable source of support and comfort for siblings. Some siblings attend local sibling support groups, many children receive support from young carer services and others may have the opportunity to meet other siblings through local and national events for families of disabled children. It is crucial for siblings to know they are not alone! Sibs has also developed Sibs Talk, an intervention for primary school aged children. The charity also works to train professionals wishing to set up sibling support groups as well as bespoke workshops for parents on supporting siblings.