As a BC nonprofit organization working closely with children with special needs (support needs), and their families, leaders from our family programs at Options Community Services are observing how important inclusion, and adequate resources, are for both the increase in children with support needs, and their families.
A 2022 Inclusion BC study examined how families were affected while navigating BC’s support systems. Several findings are consistent with our observations while working with local families. Children with support needs such as autism, ADHD, and other behavioural, developmental and/or physical disabilities, require specialized support that is easier to access, and so do their family members.
Sometimes sidelined, siblings do their best in a home where families often experience stress while learning how to best support their child in need.
While working with these families, we notice that siblings can adopt a variety of behaviours. Sometimes feeling neglected, they may act out in ways that are inconsistent with their natural behaviours. To no fault of the parents, who are doing their best while managing a variety of obstacles, siblings can experience isolation.
When this occurs, we encourage parents to incorporate regular one-on-one time with each sibling, planning a special, and consistent, activity together where the child experiences parental connection. This can increase confidence and provide a sibling with reassurance they need.
Older siblings may take on a caregiver role, especially in the school environment. Although this is natural, given the connections that siblings share, its important that siblings understand that although this behaviour is caring, there are adults at the school who are responsible for the wellbeing of their brother or sister. Its vital that this is indeed the case so the sibling feels comfortable tapering off that responsibility; one that can result in stress and anxiety.
Private communications between parents and siblings must also be prioritized, allowing the child to share their feelings, whether they be fear, worry or stress. These feelings may warrant family therapy, while ensuring that there is a healthy home and school plan in place supporting both the child in need and their sibling(s).
Complete family care is timely as our Options family support leaders have gathered data indicating that more families are navigating the challenges of seeking solutions for a child with support needs. These challenges can bring stress and conflict into the home, while affecting the mental health of the entire family.
Notable data our team recorded earlier this year includes:
Between January and June 2023:
- We had 848 emails or calls from families seeking help in finding childcare, most connecting because their child has a need that cannot be met with “standard” care.
- We had 2757 individuals search our online childcare database 20,855 times.
- 1016 items were borrowed from our Parent Resource Lending Library.
Between January and March 31st, 2023:
- 314 parents, and 370 children attended our drop-in family support program.
- The OptionsChildcare Resource and Referral provided 3757 community referrals, supporting families and childcare providers.
We recently hosted a holiday party for our client families, sponsored by a family with a child who has support needs. Festivities focused on ensuring that siblings are experiencing fun and individualized attention while reminding them how loved and valued they are.
Its important that parental figures not carry guilt while working through various systems and doing their best with the extra work of raising a child with support needs. This is not easy.
We are honoured to service local families, while ensuring that the entire family is receiving the care and tools needed for health and happiness.
Lori LaCroix, Options Community Services Program Manager, Special Services to Children and Their Families