Here at Helen & Douglas House, we care for children living with life-shortening and terminal conditions. But, did you know that we also support the brothers and sisters of the children who come to the hospice? Throughout the past year, this has become even more important to our families as many siblings have had to self-isolate at home if their brother or sister has a life-limiting or terminal condition.
Sibling Support Groups
We have two support groups for the brothers and sisters of the children who come to the hospice: The Elephant Club, for younger siblings aged six to 11 years old and an Adolescent Sibling Group, for those aged 12 to 17 years old.
When a child is diagnosed with a terminal or life-limiting illness everyone in the family is affected. The stress of frequent hospital visits, multiple treatments, and the other harsh realities of dealing with a terminal or life-limiting illness can take a major toll on family life. That inevitably includes brothers and sisters, who find it upsetting to see their sibling’s health decline. It can also mean they have less time and attention from their parents as their vulnerable sibling often needs 24/7 care.
Supporting the whole family
At Helen & Douglas House, we’re proud to be able to support the whole family. We understand that our young siblings may be worried about discussing their worries and fears with their parents because they don’t want to add to their concerns. This can make them feel anxious and alone. Here at Helen & Douglas House, we can provide a supportive place where our siblings can talk about what they’re going through with people who understand. This might be with our trained counsellors, with our play specialists or even with other children going through the same thing as them.
Many siblings of terminally ill children feel isolated and alone and are unable to talk to their friends about how they are feeling. Before the pandemic, we would run regular programmes to support brothers and sisters, including face-to-face workshops and weekends away. Despite lockdown, our sibling support team have adapted to be able to continue to support children and young people, they have done this by running online Zoom sessions as a group and also holding one-to-one meetings online, where appropriate and possible.
What our Siblings Team leader, Laura, says about the support we provide
Laura Craddock, the Helen & Douglas House Siblings Team Leader said ‘The group Zoom sessions give the young people the opportunity to chat with other siblings in a similar position to themselves. They also help remove isolation and normalise some of the difficult feelings that might be associated with having a brother or sister with a life-limiting condition.
Many of the families we support have been shielding since last March and understandably anxiety amongst all family members is high. Our sessions give our young people the chance to talk about this and share their experiences in a safe space. To try and keep the group sessions fun and involve them so that they feel more comfortable to talk during these sessions we have been holding live ‘Craft Along’s’. Before the sessions, we send out everything that the child will need for the activity and then during the call create something together. Arts and crafts provide an opportunity for mindfulness, self-expression, group participation and a sense of achievement at having created something. In-between sessions we also encourage our siblings to get creative and venture outside (where possible). We do this by sending out suggested activities and holding competitions that they can take part in. This is a chance to briefly take them away from screens and other technology which helps with mindfulness.
We have also continued to offer individual support to our children and young people to those that need it most. We have had to find creative ways to deliver this, in light of the COVID restrictions. We continue to support children from an outdoor building in the Helen & Douglas House garden, wearing PPE, and regularly meet children for socially distanced walks. These opportunities can be particularly therapeutic, in situations where the only contact a young person may have had recently has only been ‘virtually’.’
What our siblings say about the Siblings Club
Finn Morrisroe, aged 16, has been part of the Helen & Douglas House siblings club for over 10 years and said ‘Laura organises lots of fun sibling group activities including trips, outings and, since lockdown, online quizzes.
‘Our family have enjoyed many activities organised by the siblings group. A few years ago Finn and Niamh went to the Longridge Centre in Marlow for a two-day residential trip which included lots of activities like life-raft building and laser tag. We also took part in an Escape Room in Oxford which was amazing. We all joined the online quizzes during lockdown which were lots of fun. We have really enjoyed being members of the siblings group because of the fun activities and trips which have been organised. The group also provides a good opportunity to meet and talk to other children in similar circumstances to us, discuss how we are feeling and just have fun.
Helen & Douglas House has helped our family in so many ways. It has provided us with a safe space to create happy family memories. It has also enabled us to go on holiday abroad, spending time together knowing Patrick is well cared for. We have had the opportunity to talk with professionals who helped us when we were feeling anxious.’
If you would like to help the brothers and sisters of local terminally ill children, you can donate to Helen & Douglas House using the button below or calling us on 01865 799150.