Since its inception in 2009, the Sibling Support Program has been a signature program of the Friends of Karen Family Support Program. The Sibling Support Program is delivered by Licensed Creative Arts Therapists and Certified Child Life Specialists to help siblings and the ill child cope with the stresses and changes in their daily lives. These professionals use a range of interventions such as art, music, movement, journaling, play and other appropriate means to work effectively with children from age five through the teens. These interventions provide an outlet to children for their complex feelings and a means to develop coping strategies.

Friends of Karen’s holistic view of treating the entire family has grown and evolved with exciting new additions to the Sibling Support program to meet the varied needs of the children and parents we serve. This includes a line-up of virtual programs that promote joy, connection, and self-esteem. The team has launched the Instagram handle @familysupportteamfok to share their knowledge and provide insights for ill children, siblings, survivors, parents, groups and other professionals. The following are the reflections of our four experts on the impact of this vital program.

Jennifer, Certified Child Life Specialist

A veteran Child Life Specialist for nearly two decades, Jennifer is consistently our team's “go-to” when it comes to explaining a complicated medical diagnosis and treatment.

“One of the areas we are trained in as a child life specialist is how to explain a diagnosis or hospitalization to a child at their developmental level and in the appropriate language that they can understand. How we explain something to a five year old will look different than how we explain it to a 10 year old or a teenager.

At Friends of Karen, we are able to use our training and skills to not only help the child going through treatment, but also help explain it to their siblings. This has always been an important part of the work, because not every sibling has the opportunity to visit the hospital and receive illness education. At Friends of Karen, we are able to reach beyond the hospital walls and directly work with the siblings.

Illness education has become even more important since the pandemic, because many hospitals have no visitation policies in place, so many siblings have never met with a member of the health care team to learn about the diagnosis or reasons their brother or sister is in treatment.”

Jane, Licensed Creative Arts Therapist

Jane brings a contagious energy to any virtual group she hosts at Friends of Karen, particularly the weekly fun group. The continuously popular Friends Having Fun began during the pandemic as an opportunity for isolated children to socialize and as a respite for overwhelmed parents.

“I love facilitating these groups because I get to see our kids having fun while playing games, being creative while making art, and challenging themselves in movement activities. What they typically don’t realize is that I also see them learning skills to problem solve, to persevere, to collaborate and all the while increasing their confidence.”

Siobhan, Licensed Creative Arts Therapist

Creative Arts Therapist, Siobhan has a passion for working with families, whether throughout treatment,
bereavement or survivorship.

“Whether it is the initial diagnosis, treatment, survivorship or bereavement, art therapy is the perfect modality to use when working with Friends of Karen children and families. The arts are powerful and natural ways for children to communicate big feelings when words are hard to find or may not be enough.. We utilize different creative modalities to help regulate emotions, improve coping skills and strengthen relationships by acting as a bridge for communication within a family. Expression through art is a way to help these children feel a sense of normalcy without judgment. Using imagination and creativity feels good and improves self-esteem. It often allows the children to feel seen in a beautiful new light.

I hold a tender place in my heart for families who are bereaved. Art therapy is a means to celebrate memories, explore feelings and try to make meaning out of the unimaginable. The mementos created in these sessions become heartwarming treasures for the family.”

Melissa, Certified Child Life Specialist

Though our program is called “Sibling Support,” we provide many resources for the ill children as well, in the form of individual and family sessions, and most recently a group for adolescents experiencing a serious illness. Melissa has the honor of leading the ill child group.

“Friends of Karen Sibling Support Specialists are in a unique role to meet the very specific needs of the ill children they serve. The COVID-19 pandemic made ill children even more isolated, which was particularly hard on teens. It became clear we needed a way for ill teens to have a way to meet one another for mutual support. The new online group provides an opportunity for socialization and to talk about the issues they have in common.”