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UMass Medical School partners with Franciscan Hospital for Children on Sibling Support Program

Families of children receiving inpatient mental health treatment at the Franciscan Hospital for Children are learning about resiliency and healing from their trauma through UMass Medical School’s Sibling Support Program.

UMass Medical School and the Franciscan Hospital for Children have partnered on the Sibling Support Program: A Family-Centered Mental Health Initiative, created and directed by Emily Rubin, MA, at UMass Medical School’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center. Rubin also is a lecturer in UMass Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry and a program associate for Franciscan’s Child and Adolescent Inpatient Mental Health Program.

“When a child is in psychiatric crisis, it affects every member of the family. Parents and caregivers often feel overwhelmed, deeply discouraged, and sometimes ashamed when a child’s behavioral needs require inpatient treatment,” Rubin wrote in a blog post on the Franciscan website. “Many of their siblings have been exposed to physical and verbal aggression, and the sibling relationship can be confusing and scary.”

Rubin developed the Sibling Support Program at the Shriver Center to address the complex needs of families during a child’s psychiatric crisis. The program is an evidence-based, family centered mental health initiative that aims to improve outcomes for siblings of psychiatrically involved children and adolescents. The goals of the program are: building resiliency and decreasing trauma for siblings, stabilizing families by teaching parents strategies to support siblings, educating clinicians and trainees about best practices in providing family centered mental health care, and reducing hospital re-admissions.

The program is being offered at Franciscan on Thursday nights. Close to 100 siblings and their parents have participated in the program at Franciscan since December. The program also has been running at Cambridge Health Alliance since November 2011.

Siblings of children with mental health needs struggle with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. They are at risk of developing maladaptive behaviors themselves.

Survey data indicates that siblings and parents benefit from participating in the Sibling Support Program. The siblings learn they are not alone and are introduced to coping skills to help them better navigate their situations. Parents and caregivers develop an understanding of what the siblings are experiencing to better address their needs.

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