Saturday, May 19, 2007

Foster care and sibling separation

Approximately 70 percent of children in foster care in the United States have a sibling who is also in care.

What's a Sibling?
When families break down, relationships become complex and complicated. Therefore sibling relationships might include biological siblings who were relinquished or removed at birth, half-siblings, step-siblings or current/former foster siblings.

Not all couples are married, so a sibling could include: "Mom's ex-boyfriend's daughter."

Importance of Sibling Relationships
Regardless of how complex these relationships might sound, or how tangled the family tree, it is important to recognize the love and connection that might exist between siblings. In a family wherein abuse is taking place, it's not uncommon for siblings to nurture and protect one another.

Separating Siblings
Across the nation, states vary in their policies regarding sibling placement of foster children.

Reasons why sibling groups might not be placed together might include:

1.) Size of sibling group: It's more difficult to find foster families for large sibling groups. Also, agencies have regulations regarding how many children can be placed in a foster home.

2.) Willingness of kinship care providers: Relatives might only be willing to take in children to whom they are related by blood, and not half- or step-siblings.

3.) Special needs of some siblings: A foster home might not provide the resources and support needed by one special needs member of a sibling group.

Grief at the Loss of Siblings
When I was in foster care, I saw my brother once. It was Easter morning, and I had saved up and bought him a basket of goodies. I still remember watching his brown eyes widen at the jellybeans, Peeps and chocolate bunny that I had for him.

I was fourteen. He was eight. We played kickball in the backyard. He ran around the bases at a look of intense concentration... I didn't have the heart to tag him out with the ball.

In earlier years, while my mother was dying, I became my brother's 'mother.' Sure, I wasn't the best surrogate mom in the world. I couldn't cook well, for one thing. But I loved him. When he woke in the night, gnashing his teeth and crying at thunderstorms, I was there. I came into his room and read him stories.

Losing him wasn't just like losing my brother. In a weird way, it was like losing my child.

What Can We Do to Reunite Siblings?
In foster care, when siblings cannot be placed together, it is essential to facilitate regular contact.

Will this be difficult? Yes, certainly.
Is it worth it? Yes, most definitely.
How can it be done? Here are some methods:

1.) Social workers need to create a visitation plan, and involve the children and the adults at their current placements in its formation and evolution over time. This plan needs to include concrete, practical steps and an accountability component.

2.) If siblings are placed in separate foster homes, make sure those homes are in close proximity to one another. Visitation will be more likely to occur if their foster parents or social work doesn't have to drive several hours to facilitate.

3.) Facilitate frequent contact between siblings with letters, email, cards, and phone calls. Make the extra effort to buy stamps and mail the letters, especially for younger children.

4.) Arrange for joint respite care, andnvest in camps like A Camp to Belong (information below).

Allow for Sibling Grief
If children are sad after visiting their siblings, allow them to share and experience those feelings. Listen to them -- but don't use this as an excuse to end the sibling visitation because it's too hard on you afterward.

To learn more about a camp that reunites siblings, please visit:

Child Welfare Information Gateway
2006 Bulletin for Professionals
Sibling Issues in Foster Care and Adoption

Labels: , ,

You said that sometimes, it's hard to keep sibling
>groups together, because state agencies have limits on how many children a
>home can have.
>Now, that is sad, and it goes to show that some of their rules need to be
>evaluated. It would be nice if they made the exeption for a sibling group,
>especially if they exceeded the "limit" by only one child.
>I know that John and I would take in a sibling group of many if we could.
>Just so sad that they wouldn't allow that, and the children would suffer for
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