I’ve been told I am a lifesaver, but I’m not, I’m just here to help

I was a Psychotherapist in Italy and I came to London two years ago to learn to speak English. I spent some time in retail which was a big shock to me - people can be so difficult. So, when I started working with Rainbow Trust families, I felt really honoured to work with people who I felt really needed my help.

I support siblings of sick children in the hospital and at their homes. One of the families I support has a sick child who is one year old. She has two year old sister so when the sick child has a hospital appointment, I look after the sibling. She’s only two so it’s hard for the mum to look after her as well as the sick child. I sit with her in the waiting room or play with her in the playroom at the hospital. How would you look after two small children in a hospital for seven hours when one is sick and the other isn’t? It is hard for the family so my helping means that mum can relax knowing her two year old is taken care of.

The impact of having a sick brother or sister on their siblings is enormous and so many need extra support to help them make sense of what is happening. They feel anxious with that, “oh my gosh, what’s going on?” feeling so I am there to help them talk it through. They can elaborate on what they are feeling with someone who is there just for them. So often siblings are left with a friend, aunty or neighbour when parents take the sick child to hospital and often feel left out as parents are naturally focused on their sick child. This is hard for both the children and the parents who feel guilty leaving their healthy child so having a Sibling Support Worker makes a huge difference to the whole family. Sometimes, I can answer questions they feel they can’t ask their parents.

Sometimes siblings tell me things they don’t want to tell their parents for fear of looking selfish or giving them something else to worry about. I can then relay the information to the parents and work with them to understand each other.

I supported one family by taking the sibling to and from school. For two months, his mum or dad could not find a way to get him to school as dad worked shifts and mum was taking the sick child to the hospital. Without me, he would have had to go to the hospital with his mum and sister and miss two months of school. I was really pleased to be able to do that for them. It’s important that siblings keep to their routine and still do what they need to do.

I think it’s very important that we support siblings of sick children and I am so pleased that there is a growing awareness of it by professionals and carers. The relationship I have with my families is so important but I think understanding the complexity of what the families are going through is just as important. There are so many different situations, cultures and needs of these families and I think it’s our understanding of those differences, together with the relationship, that makes our support so special. Families trust us, they trust me with their children knowing I am there to support them at such a difficult time.

For me, the most important thing is being with that child or that family in that moment when they need help. I am able to help when they are in crisis. A mum told me I was a lifesaver, I was so embarrassed, I am not a lifesaver, I was just able to help.