Bringing up a family is hard, and it is completely normal for parents to have difficulties and argue from time to time. Statistics suggest that one in five couples experience overwhelming relationship problems which start to affect their mental health, their parenting and, in turn, the wellbeing of their children. Research on family mental health now clearly shows that frequent, intense and unresolved conflict between parents is very harmful to children’s mental and physical health.
Bringing up a child with a birth injury requires much more time, physical effort and financial commitment, especially if the child is severely disabled. These challenges can affect the entire family, most notably parents and carers who may well experience stress that can lead to depression or burnout. Families have to learn to deal with the overwhelming pressure of paying for health care and rehabilitative services, as well as the everyday struggles, which are often daunting and exhausting.
Siblings of children with special needs are particularly affected by the injury. They may face responsibility at a much younger age than their peers and can also feel quite isolated, as often there are very few children in their friendship groups who can relate to their home circumstances, and they may be teased at school for being the brother or sister of a disabled person. The parents usually need to spend extra time with their birth injured brother or sister in order to provide suitable care, but this can lead to the sibling feeling confused and sometimes abandoned. In some circumstances siblings may even wish that they suffered a birth injury themselves in order to gain more attention, or they may feel guilty for being born healthy.
To help children come to terms with their sibling’s birth injury, it is vital that they receive adequate, age-appropriate information. This may offer clarity on why their brother or sister needs to go to the hospital, attend special classes at school and receive other attention that they do not.
Alison Johnson, associate director at Penningtons Manches, said: “We work with a number of families with children who have suffered a birth injury or perhaps a neonatal injury, which has left that child with physical and cognitive disability, where a clinical negligence investigation is appropriate. We have seen for ourselves the struggles those families face and the courageous way in which they fight to provide the very best for their children. Sadly, the family situation can have an adverse impact on the parents’ relationship, sometimes leading to marriage breakdown. We try to deal with these situations as sensitively as possible and appreciate that it may be appropriate to look at counselling support for parents and siblings, as well as the psychological support for the child in question, as part of the claim. It may also be necessary to look at the practicalities and cost of adapting two family homes for the injured child, if indeed the parents plan to live separately.