Why Support Siblings?
Siblings are a vulnerable group and schools can play an important role in supporting them. Recognising siblings can add to student learning and wellbeing, can assist in developing strong partnerships with families and can add to professional competency.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that every child’s education should support “the development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential”. There are a number of risks for siblings that can obstruct them in reaching their educational potential.
Siblings are at risk of experiencing stress and adverse mental health outcomes.
Siblings of children with disability often grow up in a situation of considerable stress. Awareness and understanding of what siblings deal with and how their lives are affected has generally been poorly understood and addressed. Many cope well; many more are ‘at risk’ of developing health, emotional and behavioural problems.
In Australia, over 200,000 young people (under 25 years) have a severe or profound disability or chronic illness (not including mental illness). Assuming an average of one sibling per person with disability, there are at least 200,000 siblings of people with disability.
Schools have a responsibility towards supporting students’ wellbeing and making this a part of the daily curriculum. This is made clear in the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers:
“Professional Practice: Focus area 4.4 Maintain student safety: Initiate and take responsibility for implementing current school and/ or system, curriculum and legislative requirements to ensure student wellbeing and safety (Highly accomplished career stage)”
Fostering wellbeing has huge benefits for siblings. For one, creating a safe and secure environment allows siblings to feel a sense of belonging and connection to a supportive social network. This, in turn, supports optimal engagement in classroom learning.
“Student resilience and wellbeing are essential for both academic and social development, and are optimised by safe, supportive and respectful learning environments. Schools share this responsibility with the whole community” (Department of Education, Skills and Employment)
Educators are uniquely placed to identify vulnerable students, such as siblings, and use this as a starting point for supporting social growth, emotional wellbeing and stronger mental health. Schools play an important role in educating students about their own mental health.
Schools can help students, including siblings, know how to:
- Recognise the problem they’re experiencing
- Open up about it
- Look for help
- Support peers who may have similar experiences
Educational professionals must keep vulnerable groups, such as siblings in mind. Siblings rely heavily on schools to deliver educational outcomes, as the pressures of home life sometimes limit their educational opportunities outside of school.
Partnering with families is crucial in terms of understanding siblings’ needs and offering them support that is targeted and ongoing. Siblings often hold their worries in, and put others’ needs first. They very much need their educators and family to work together to amplify their voice and develop supportive ways to respond to their unique circumstances and challenges.
Siblings are a vulnerable student group who have unique needs of their own. Addressing individual student needs means partnering with families.
As in other sectors, ‘partnering with families’ is widely accepted as best practice within education. Schools have a responsibility to understand students’ individual needs to enable positive engagement and optimal learning outcomes. Partnering with families allows educators to better understand students and develop relationships that facilitate ongoing support. This is highlighted within the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers:
“Professional Engagement: Focus area 7.3 Engage with the parents/carers: Establish and maintain respectful collaborative relationships with parents/ carers regarding their children’s learning and wellbeing (Proficient career stage)”
Building professional knowledge and competency around sibling needs is valuable because:
- understanding individual needs promotes better learning outcomes for students
- mental health and wellbeing is an important focus of practice improvement within education
- vulnerable groups should never go unrecognised and ‘fall through the gaps’
- acquiring knowledge in this area can contribute to PD points