Why Support Siblings?
Disability has impacts on the whole family. Many families are able to manage the changes in their lives and grow and support each other. They can become closer to each other, and these family relationships are crucial to the development of all children in the family. However, there can be stresses and, if not supported, both parents and siblings can be at greater risk for depression and anxiety, which in turn affects family functioning. Siblings, in particular, are often experiencing stresses at a time when they lack both emotional and cognitive maturity to understand and manage. The whole family needs support to manage any challenges that are present. The importance of family approaches is reflected in various relevant policy documents and legislation. The NDIS Act states that the purpose of the NDIS is to:
[SOURCE: National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) – child and family system interface: practice guidelines – 2019]
Additionally, the need to introduce supports from an early age is reflected in the NDIA’s early childhood early intervention (ECEI) approach, which recognises the need to build family strengths early in order to improve a child’s development and wellbeing.
The key outcome is that:
A whole family approach leads to benefits for siblings, parents and the child with disability. It also benefits the whole community.
Support for siblings helps them to feel less isolated and more able to manage any challenges. They will feel more important in the family, more confident to seek out assistance from trusted people in their lives. They will be less likely to develop their own health problems down the track and be more able to pursue their own life opportunities.
Parents can understandably be overwhelmed at times by the magnitude of their responsibilities, especially when a child has disability. Support for siblings has the benefit of strengthening relationships between family members. Parents report that support for siblings has helped them to communicate more effectively together – parents are more aware of what all their children need. This can help parents feel more confident in their parenting role and contribute to the health and wellbeing of the whole family.
For the Person with Disability
Siblings are likely to have the longest relationship of any with the person with disability. If we can nurture that relationship from early on, then it is likely that the sibling relationship will be more enduring and mutually sustaining. Many parents report that siblings interact more with their brother or sister after they attend a sibling support program. In the longer term, a sibling can play an important role in the life of their brother or sister across the lifespan. Professionals can have a positive impact on the long term wellbeing, social inclusion and safety of the person with disability, by supporting siblings.
For the Community
If siblings are supported, they are more likely to want to stay involved in the life of their brother or sister with disability, ensuring greater social inclusion and safety for people with disability. This can lead to greater independence of people with disability and less dependence on the disability industry. With support, siblings are also less likely to develop longer term health concerns such as depression or anxiety, which cost the community through medical and social services. Also, siblings may learn a lot of skills through their childhood experiences and, if supported, are likely to contribute to the community in very useful ways.