Background: Siblings of children with chronic illness and disabilities are at increased risk of negative psychological effects. Support groups enable them to access psycho-education and social support. Barriers to this can include the distance they have to travel to meet face-to-face. Audio-conferencing, whereby three or more people can connect by telephone in different locations, is an efficient means of groups meeting and warrants exploration in this healthcare context. This study explored the feasibility of audio-conferencing as a method of facilitating sibling support groups
Methods: A longitudinal design was adopted. Participants were six siblings (aged eight to thirteen years) and parents of children with complex neurodevelopmental disorders attending the Centre for Interventional Paediatric Psychopharmacology (CIPP). Four of the eight one-hour weekly sessions were held face-to-face and the other four using audio-conferencing. Pre- and post-intervention questionnaires and interviews were completed and three to six month follow-up interviews were carried out. The sessions were audio-recorded, transcribed and thematic analysis was undertaken.
Results: Audio-conferencing as a form of telemedicine was acceptable to all six participants and was effective in facilitating sibling support groups. Audio-conferencing can overcome geographical barriers to children being able to receive group therapeutic healthcare interventions such as social support and psycho-education. Psychopathology ratings increased post-intervention in some participants. Siblings reported that communication between siblings and their family members increased and siblings’ social network widened.
Conclusions: Audio-conferencing is an acceptable, feasible and effective method of facilitating sibling support groups. Siblings’ clear accounts of neuropsychiatric symptoms render them reliable informants. Systematic assessment of siblings’ needs and strengthened links between Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, school counsellors and young carers groups are warranted.