Setting up your sibling group
The following guidance is based on our many years of experience training people to run sibling groups across the UK and the feedback we have received from sibling group leaders on best practice in running sibling groups.
Who can run a sibling group?
The people who run sibling sessions come from a range of backgrounds. You need to be interested in siblings of disabled children and feel confident in facilitating discussion groups for children and young people. People who run the sessions are often called sibling group leaders. You may be supported by other workers or volunteers.
Your main tasks as a sibling group leader are: plan and facilitate group sessions; ensure that within the sessions, siblings have the opportunity to talk openly about their lives; lead the other workers during the sessions; and facilitate planning meetings. Groups should be run by more than one person to ensure children’s safety during the session.
You may be a practitioner from education, social care, health, youth work, a children’s centre, a children’s charity, or a child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS). You may run a sibling group as a volunteer who has an interest in supporting siblings or have life or work experience that you can bring to a group. You may be the parent of a disabled child and siblings, or you may be an adult sibling and have grown up with a disabled brother or sister.
Things to consider before running a group
- Are you able to remain objective and non-judgmental when siblings talk about issues that you have strong personal views about?
- Do you feel resilient enough to be able to listen to siblings sharing their experiences about issues such as being bullied, bereavement or anger?
- Do you feel confident and comfortable enough in your own parenting skills so that you don’t feel guilty or defensive when siblings raise issues such as lack of parental attention?
- Have you dealt with any tough issues of your own such as grief and disappointment?
- Will you be able to acknowledge the feelings that siblings have about their disabled brother or sister without feeling the need to stand up for the disabled child or being worried that will it bring back difficult feelings from your own childhood?
Skills and knowledge required
Knowledge of young siblings' needs
As well as having good insight in the needs of siblings of different ages, you will need to have a good understanding of child development more generally. Sibling groups need to be child centred and held in child friendly environments.
Knowledge of how groups work
You will need to know about various stages of group development – forming, storming, norming, performing, etc. to help you support a group through these stages
Knowledge of children's support services
You will need to be able to recognise when a sibling needs further help that is beyond the scope of the sibling group, and where to refer siblings to for support.
Skills to facilitate children's discussions
You will need to be good at communicating with children and their parents, and able to use discussion techniques with children.
Skills to manage group logistics and planning
You will need to be able to arrange for siblings to get to and from the group, plan the activities for each session, brief other workers about the group, and arrange any materials or activity resources.
Knowledge of children's safeguarding
You will need to be apply the safeguarding policy and procedure of your organisation to your group or develop your own policy and procedure if your group is not part of another organisation
Sibling group leader training
We strongly recommend that anyone planning to run a sibling group attends one of our sibling group leader training days. As well as developing your group skills and knowledge, it will also help you decide if running a sibling group is the right thing for you. It is very important to have someone leading group with the skills to facilitate discussion. This does not necessarily have to be you – you can set up and manage the logistics of the group and bring in someone else to lead on the discussion aspects.
Funding your sibling group
The current climate for funding sibling groups is challenging. You are unlikely to be able to get your group funded by your local authority amid reductions to children’s services and budgets.
Sibling group costs
Sibling groups don’t need much in the way of resource materials or equipment but unless your group is run by volunteers, the cost of staff time needs to be covered.
The main cost of running a sibling group is your time or the cost of paying someone to run the group. Before planning your group look at how much time will be involved with planning and running your group. Ensure that your organisation agrees to you using your time in this way and makes allowance in your workload for this.
Venue and activity costs
A cost effective option could be to link up with other people who have contact with disabled children and their families and who may be interested in supporting siblings alongside you. Children’s centres, schools or youth clubs may have workers who are able to help you to set up or run the group, or they may offer you a venue or resources. There may also be groups of volunteers who could support you, for example from the local college or university.Most sibling group activities only need inexpensive resources such as pens, paper and basic art materials. Siblings will also need some refreshments.
You may want to transport the siblings to the group which will incur mileage, taxis or minibus hire costs. Some areas have community transport schemes which provide vehicles and volunteer drivers.
Raising funds for your sibling group
These are some of the options for funding your sibling group
Charging a fee
You may decide to charge a fee for siblings to attend the groups to cover the overheads of running the group. Many parents may find it difficult to pay due to the additional expenditure of raising a disabled child.
You can apply for funding to help you set up and run your group. You could seek grants for the practical costs of the group such as resources and venue hire. You may decide to apply for grants to cover the cost of employing workers to plan and run the sessions.
A good starting point for finding funders is your local Council for Voluntary Services. They will have details on local and national organisations that award grants to children’s activities. Local funding agencies are best for smaller anounts, whereas if you are planning to run a larger project it may be better to apply to a national grant making organisation. The True Colours Trust has a grant scheme for sibling projects.To be awarded funding you will need to meet the criteria of the grant making organisation. Some will only award to registered charities whereas others will award to community groups. You will need to have clear outcomes for the project, show how you will measure these, and demonstrate that you are able to manage the funds.
Siblings of children with SEND are at risk for attainment and wellbeing and should be identified in your school as a vulnerable group. Use Pupil Premium to fund sibling support interventions including sibling groups.
Planning ahead for your group
There are a number of decisions to make before you set up your sibling group – how many sessions to run, sibling characteristics to consider and group logistics. These are common questions asked by sibling group leaders.
How often should the group meet?
One off session
The 90 minute session can be run as a single issue workshop for siblings, for example, explaining a condition or disability such as autism or teaching coping strategies and passing on information about local and online support.
Time limited weekly group
The 90 minute session is run every week, for 6-8 weeks with the same siblings attending each session. A group identity is created and each session has a different theme. After the group a reunion event can be planned to see how everyone is getting on.
The 90 minute session is run regularly, every week, fortnight or month. Siblings meet at the same time in the same venue and attend when they are able to. A regular core group of siblings attend with new siblings joining in and others leaving from time to time.
Which siblings should attend?
Age range of siblings
Running a session for siblings of a similar age 8-12 years or 12-16 years will help you to run age appropriate activities. Running a session for siblings across a wide age range, for example 8-16 years, works well if you are able to split the group into smaller groups for discussion activities. It also works well if they have brothers and sisters with the same conditions.
Siblings with additional needs
Consider whether siblings can cope with the discussion activities. If they are likely to need a lot of support, they may benefit from one to one interventions. If siblings have a condition or disability themselves that is obvious then the other siblings may not feel comfortable about sharing their sibling experiences. Conditions such as dyslexia or asthma are unlikely to affect the running of the group, whereas learning disability or autism often does; siblings may feel that they have to look after other children at the group or resentful that the group leader’s focus is on sorting out the child with additional needs.
Siblings from the same family
When you are running discussion activities try to put any siblings from the same family into different groups so that they are able to speak freely. Although they are from the same family, their sibling experiences will be different.
Siblings with different support needs
Most siblings will have a mixture of needs but if you can only run one session, think about the needs that you can address well in the session and the outcomes that you can expect. Do the siblings need to learn more about their brother or sister’s disability? Do the siblings need to learn ways of coping with difficult times? Do siblings need a chance to express their feelings? Set clear aims for your session and deliver that in the 90 minute format.
Finding siblings for your group
Decide where the siblings are going to come from. You can invite siblings known to your agency or school or extend it to other agencies. Or you may advertise it and ask parents to get in touch.
Group planning and logistics
Contact with families beforehand
Give families the details of the group beforehand – the date and time, venue address and contact number. You need to obtain contact details of the family and a consent form for siblings attending with any relevant information for example about medication or allergies. Write a simple leaflet about the group that can be passed to siblings, parents and other agencies.
If you are running a group in a venue that siblings need to travel to, you need to think about how siblings will get there. Parents could arrange transport between them. Or you could collect the siblings using a minibus, staff cars, taxis or community transport/volunteers.
Possible venues include children’s centres, schools, church halls, youth centres, sports centres or scout huts. You need to be able to do messy craft work, make noise, play games and provide food and drink. It needs to be in a safe place for families and staff.
Recording at your sibling group
What you record about the group will depend on your agency and its data protection policy. You may need to record siblings’ attendance at the group. It is always useful to record an overview of the session and how the siblings responded for future reference and to feedback to parents or funders.
Employee management and organisational policies
For new groups without the support of a statutory or voluntary organisation, a good source of support is the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA). NAVCA has a host of policies and procedures that can be downloaded by organisations and adapted to suit your needs. These include employee management policies such as supervision, disciplinary procedures and subsistence claims and organisational policies such as health and safety and complaints.
Evaluating your sibling group
Hopefully your sibling group will be a success and will continue and develop over time. To do this it is vital that you demonstrate to parents, referrers and funders that the group is making a difference to siblings. You need to know whether you are meeting the desired outcomes for the siblings who attend, both in the short and long term.
Is your group achieving the F.R.A.M.E. aims and outcomes?
In addition to these your group may also be helping siblings have positive change in:
- Behaviour, concentration and performance in school
- Behaviour and family dynamics at home
- Social inclusion for siblings in mainstream activities
In order to evaluate the success of your group you can gather evaluation information from siblings, their parents, and schools.
It is important to make a clear distinction between getting feedback from siblings about their enjoyment of the group and collecting information on the impact the group has had on their wellbeing and resilience.
Tools for evaluating your sibling group
You can design your own interviews and questionnaires for siblings, parents and professionals to use as well as using more formal evaluation methods.
Sample questions for siblings
Are things different in any way for you since coming to the sibling group?
What difference has the group made to you?
Do you do anything different now since coming to the group? At home? At school?
What have you learned since coming to the group?
Sample questions for parents
Have there been any changes in your sibling child as a result of coming to the sibling group: At home? At school? Between you and your sibling child? Between your sibling child and your disabled child? In his/her mood?
What has your sibling child learned since coming to the group?
What difference do you think coming to the group has made to him/her?
What effect has this had on your family?
Does your sibling child do anything differently now since attending the group?
Sample questions for professionals
Have there been any changes in this sibling since attending the sibling group: In mood? In behaviour? In learning? In relationships with others?
What impact has the group had on this sibling?
The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire
This wellbeing tool is a standardardized behavioural screening questionnaire. Parents, professionals or older siblings complete the forms pre and post group. This gives you good data to show changes for the siblings.
School progress data
If you are running a sibling group in school you can use attainment data from prior to and after the group intervention to measure the impact of attending the group on progress at school.