Even in the early days of Camp Simcha, almost 25 years ago, when Meir and I first began supporting families from around our kitchen table, we knew how important it was to help the whole family – particularly siblings who are often the forgotten sufferers when a child is seriously ill.

Over the years we have made sure siblings get offered the same treats as the seriously ill children, as well as the therapeutic support, their own ‘Big Sister or Brother’ volunteers – and even their own dedicated peer support networks.

When the Covid-19 emergency began we knew again that siblings would be hit hard.

With parents’ main focus, understandably, on protecting their very vulnerable, very ill children, many siblings in families we support have been feeling the impact. Pre-Covid-19 they had school, their own activities, relatives and friends to provide attention and distraction from the worrying and, for many, difficult home situation. In the space of a week or so all of that vanished from their lives.

For families whose child has been diagnosed after lockdown it is even more distressing.

Not only do siblings have the shock of their brother or sister’s diagnosis and all the fear which comes with it, but if the ill child is hospitalised, they are separated from that sibling and one or even both parents.

We have one family we have started supporting, where the child has just been diagnosed and both parents are staying at the hospital – while their youngest who is under five, is staying with relatives. The little boy does not understand where his brother and parents have gone so is obviously very upset, anxious and missing them very much. It is so painful for all of them.

This is just one of our recent referrals, which sadly continue at the same rate as always; infact we have slightly more referrals than usual – serious childhood illness does not stop for a pandemic. Isolated from their normal support networks, families need us more than ever.

Camp Simcha has remained a constant throughout and we have been doing everything possible to mitigate against the situation for existing and new families.

Our Big Brother and Sister volunteers are in continuous contact with the siblings they support by phone and online. Ever creative, they have come up with fun and imaginative ways to be in touch remotely. Our wonderful volunteers build strong relationships with the children, making them feel they have someone who is there just for them. These relationships have really helped carry some of our siblings through this difficult time.

Camp Simcha’s therapeutic arts sessions have been another constant. We are presently running around 50 weekly virtual sessions reaching children we support in all parts of the country. Mums tell me how much the children love these sessions and look forward to them – just as they did when our art teachers went into their homes.

In addition, our services team is sending in a steady stream of fun activities, from creative toys, games and crafts, to books to seed and herb garden kits for inside and out. We are also creating weekly challenges and activities like treasure hunts and bake offs, which all helps to keep children occupied and feeling connected. Camp Simcha’s parent portal offers entertainment, exercise videos and activities for the kids.

The pre-lockdown sibling support group which used to meet regularly has now been set up online. This gives the siblings we help a chance to connect with others in the same situation – children who are their peers but who also understand some of the challenges they are going through.

Nothing is static at Camp Simcha and our services team is constantly exploring new ways to bring the joy of our usual trips and outings to families. We know that distraction from the daily anxiety and having fun events to look forward to can make a big difference.

We can’t take the suffering away for these children but we are doing everything we can to try to make life a little better at this most difficult of times.