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Siblings Matter Too

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The Donna Louise is a children’s and young people’s hospice which runs ‘Siblings Matter Too’, a project funded by BBC Children in Need. The project helps siblings of children with life limiting conditions to understand and express their feelings. In a special piece for our Siblings & Friends month, The Donna Louise Hospice for Children & Young People explores the challenges faced by siblings, and the importance of sibling support.

When a family is told that their child is likely to die before adulthood, life as they know it is gone forever.

Everyone is affected, parents are naturally focussed on the sick child and healthy siblings can feel like the ‘forgotten’ child, questioning their parent’s love. They can’t do the same activities as before, because care of the sick child consumes daily life.

Siblings are expected to grow up quickly, to ‘behave’ themselves, maybe even take on caring responsibilities. They can feel angry, confused and sad.

Siblings need the chance to understand and express their feelings, to know that what they’re feeling is normal. If they’re not given this opportunity, it can result in destructive behaviours. Aggression, eating disorders and even suicidal thoughts can all last a lifetime, unless siblings are given the tools to cope.

“They can have time to be a child, free from worry and sadness…”

The Donna Louise ‘Siblings Matter Too’ project is designed to give siblings a chance to socialise and interact with others facing the same difficult situation. It helps them find ways to communicate their feelings, reducing the loneliness they can feel as a result of their parent’s focus on the sick child.

The project gives them access to fun activities, away from the family and home environment, where they can have time to be a child, free from worry and sadness.

By having a break, siblings can manage their feelings and make sense of what is happening. Counselling sessions give them a chance to talk openly about their feelings in a safe environment, and without fear of judgement.

“Siblings need to know that it is OK to feel sad, angry and confused”

When siblings can talk openly about how they are feeling, it reduces the stress that interferes with their home and school life and impacts on their relationships. Siblings need to know that it is OK to feel sad, angry and confused. They also need to know that it is OK to feel happy and have fun too.

When children are able to communicate how they feel, and understand that it is “normal” to feel the way they do, they are better equipped to cope with the challenges they face.

Over the past year, we’ve provided a variety of activities as a part of Siblings Matter Too. We’ve organised sibling outings; group music, art and play therapy sessions; 1-2-1 counselling; and a residential holiday with fun activities that many siblings were trying for the first time.

We’ve started a bereaved sibling programme and an outreach service to meet the needs of the families that live further from the hospice and struggle to access activities in-house. A group of siblings even attended a workshop at a local university writing a book that has now been published.

“Each child we work with on this project is at a very individual place on their journey.”

The variety of activities has been designed to cater to the very differing needs of siblings.

We have a wide range of ages and family situations. Some siblings have a brother or sister who has recently been diagnosed, for some it may be all they have ever known during their life. For some, their brother or sister has already died and they are dealing with grief. Each child we work with on this project is at a very individual place on their journey.

“Being here is fun, it makes me happy”

However, the feedback we’ve had from all siblings, and their families, has been overwhelmingly positive. They’ve seen an increase in confidence, an increase in siblings being able to express their feelings and stronger relationships with parents, carers and friends.

We’re thrilled with what’s been achieved for our siblings, especially when they give us feedback like, “Being here is fun, it makes me happy” and “This just made my day better.”

We simply couldn’t provide this kind of support to these children without the grant from BBC Children in Need.

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