A disability doesn’t only affect the person living with the condition, it also affects the people around them.
It is important that family, friends and carers deal with their own feelings towards the disability and get the support they need to cope.
Parents and families are urged to be mindful of the emotional wellbeing of siblings to children or adults with disability.
Siblings Australia Founder and Director Kate Strohm, who has been working in this area for 19 years and has developed a national and international reputation, feels advocating for this particular group is highly important.
“Siblings are likely to have the longest relationship of anyone with the person with disability, and so it is crucial to do all we can to strengthen that relationship from the very beginning,” she says.
The organisation aims to create connections between siblings, between parents and siblings, and between families and professionals.
Over the last 10 years, they have received very little funding, so have mainly
relied on volunteer efforts to continue their work with the future now not secure.
Ms Strohm wants more specific policies to be put in place to ensure the resources are provided in order to support siblings and develop best practice.
“Siblings can face their own challenges and without strategies in place they can develop mental health issues if not properly supported,” she states
“A recent survey by Siblings Australia showed that parents can be very concerned about their children who are siblings; many try very hard to find support but, regrettably, there few options.”
“There are a lot of policies that mention families but if you drill down they (siblings) don’t get recognised.”
“This is in spite of siblings having the potential to contribute much to the wellbeing of their brother or sister with disability over a lifetime.”
Uplifting Australia Chief Executive Officer Garry Thompson says many cases including caring for a child with a disability can have a big impact on the emotional wellbeing of family members.
“All families have an emotional system where thoughts and feelings impact on each other,” he says.
“I would imagine having a child in a family with a disability for example would put pressure on the emotional environment.”
Uplifting Australia’s mission is to strengthen the emotional wellbeing and resilience of children and families across Australia.
Stakeholders have outlined potentially damaging outcomes if this is not managed properly.
Possible signs from a child feeling stressed are acting out, withdrawal, ‘people pleasing’ lack of friends and social skills.
Mr Thompson believes improper management of emotions can lead to serious long term effects.
“If not managed properly their mental health will be compromised and will be hard to get back on track,” he says
Despite the challenges, the experts have hope in minimising these situations from occurring.
“Siblings need to be recognised as important by (disability) providers, and connected to the information and support they need,” Ms Strohm says.
"It’s important to let siblings express their feelings about how it is impacting them without judgement,” Mr Thompson says.
For more information, visit www.siblingsaustralia.org.au.
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