Ways to Support Siblings
As a disability professional you will have varying opportunities to support siblings. Your focus may be centred on the child/adult with disability and their parent/carers. However, you can also create opportunities to engage with siblings directly, or to ensure parents and siblings have access to resources/services that will either support a sibling directly or will build on family strengths.
Your involvement may depend on the organisation you work for. If they take a true ‘whole family focus’ you will have more opportunities to support siblings either directly or indirectly. If your organisation has registered as a SibAware TM organisation with its specific guidelines, you will have more support to acknowledge siblings and ensure they are supported, either within the agency or externally.
Things to consider in relation to siblings of children and adults with disability include:
- Information needs
- Family life
- Social connection
Here are some ideas to consider if talking with parents or with siblings.
- Ask how much the family, including siblings, understand the disability and offer support and information (including books, websites).
- Discuss how the disability impacts family life.
- Where necessary, you could suggest the sibling meet with a school counsellor or be referred to a psychologist via a Mental Health Plan (2710)
- Suggest parents contact Siblings Australia regarding resources/information sessions for parents or sibling programs
- Ensure the whole family are well supported in their journey
- Invite the involvement of siblings in support plans.
- Help the family to improve their social networks
- Discuss with parents how siblings might have choices in the roles they play and assist parents to plan for the future with the needs of the whole family considered.
- Discuss with parents the benefits of engaging with psychologists or behavioural therapists if the disability makes it difficult for siblings to develop a relationship.
- Develop a relationship with siblings, help them to feel listened to and understood
- If the parent agrees, take time to explain the disability
- Let the sibling know they are not alone, that all siblings can have challenges
- Let them know that it is ok to have and express a mix of feelings – all brothers and sisters have mixed feelings about each other at different times
- Refer a sibling to resources and services which might help them develop skills to cope e.g., books and websites, KidsHelpLine or Headspace, Siblings Australia
- Research if there are any sibling programs in your area for referral
- Consider facilitating a Sibworks program (for 8-12 year olds) through your agency or collaborate with other agencies to co-facilitate
- If the sibling is a teen or adult, refer them to Siblings Australia, which provides information via its website and opportunities to connect with other siblings