Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Separating Siblings In Foster Care



Meet Kayla Pettit, 16 years old.

When she entered foster care at eight years old, she was separated from her siblings.

She didn't see her sister again for six years. And as of this date, she has never been in contact with her younger brother again.

It wasn't the state who brought Kayla and her sister back together. Terri Bailey, Kayla's foster mother, took the time to figure out which social worker was handling the case, and contact them. Afterwards, Terri witnessed the tears and joy that took place at Kayla and her fifteen-year old sister's reunion.

Kayla Pettit is one of about 50 Iowa foster youth in a group called Elevate, which empowers teens to educate the public about foster care and adoption. Its members were recently asked to choose and pursue the most important thing that they would like to change about foster care.

They responded by lobbying state lawmakers for legislation that would legally guarantee children the right to visit each other if there's no choice but to divide them up into separate foster homes.

A draft of the bill states:
- If children are not placed together, the social worker will have to explain why not to both the child and the judge.
- If siblings are not sent to the same home, they will be allowed to visit each other.
- Foster parents will be required to attend training on the importance of sibling relationships.

If this legislation is passed, Iowa will be one of the few states in the nation to have such a law. Most states report that they *try* to place siblings together and arrange visits already.

As the director of the Middleton Center for Children's Rights has stated, "The young people we've worked with are saying states need to do more than try. They want to know why they're not being given regular visitation with their siblings, and they think foster parents need training to make sure those visits happen."

I would add that some social workers might need sensitivity training in this area as well.

In many abusive and neglectful families, older siblings serve as caretakers of younger ones. For younger children, their older sibling may be the only nurturing figure they have ever known.

It's not as if we haven't known about this problem for a long time.

As Gordon Johnson, chief executive officer of Chicago-based Jane Addams Hull House Association firmly stated back in 1998, “When we split up foster children from their brothers and sisters, we are taking away the only connection they still have to people they love. This pain literally drives children crazy.”

He added that, “If the siblings are split apart, they don’t have an opportunity to grow and change together."

For more information about Elevate, please visit: www.elevate2inspire.com

To see a video about previous legislation that Elevate has prompted, please visit: http://www.jimcaseyyouth.org/whatsnew/spotlight/spotlight24.htm

Sources:
Editorial: Keep siblings together in foster care: Change Iowa law to make that a priority. Des Moines Register, Feb. 13, 2007.
Jacobs, Jennifer. Keeping foster siblings together. Des Moines Register, Feb. 11, 2007.
Phillips, Christopher. Foster-care system struggles to keep siblings together. APA Monitor, Vol. 29, No. 1, January 1998.
Shirk, Martha. Iowa youth work the corridors of power - and their advocacy pays off. Jim Casey Opportunities Initiative.

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Comments:
Lisa,

Thank you so much for stopping by my blog and commenting. Your comments always show such a balanced and knowledgeable perspective. I appreciate it!

Several of the kids I have inquired about adopting have been separated from their siblings. It's worrisome to me. While, if I had been matched with them, I would do everything within my power to foster and support continued contact with them, it's never the same as living in the same home.
 
Hi Lisa!

Thanks for the comment.

I wrote that blog in the heat of the moment. Obviously I won't get into the whole story, because there is a lot of it.

I will also mention that this isn't the first time she's been put in foster care.

Tiffany's little sister Bianca Piper went missing March of 2005. That's pretty much when it all hit the fan. The family was torn apart, and a lot of drama went down, thus bringing Tiffany into about three different foster homes.

I am slightly bitter torwards Tiffany for getting herself put into this most recent foster home, and I wont get into the details as to why, but basically... it was something she wanted to do and it was kind of unneccesary. I just think that a lot of her time is spent thinking about herself and how "horrible" her life is, rather than focusing on keeping the family together during the difficult time in their lives. That's all. She knows I understand and she know's I'm there for her.
 
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