The True Need: Siblings
…Estimates indicate that well over half of children in foster care nationwide have one or more siblings also in care.5 Some sources state that as many as 75 percent of these foster children are placed apart from one or more of their siblings.6 Some of the most recent and detailed data comes from California, among the most progressive states in recognizing the importance of the sibling bond. In October 2004, 67 percent of the child welfare population had at least one sibling in out-of-home care, and 34 percent of these children were placed apart from all of their siblings.7 In New York City, of the approximately 70 percent of children with siblings in care, close to half were placed apart from one or more of them.8 Finally, in Illinois, more than half of children in foster care had placements away from all of their siblings in 1998.9 As these data come from the three states leading the country in the development of policies that mandate attention to sibling relationships, it is likely that the figures from other states are even more troubling. (Youthlaw.org)
Reasons foster children are typically separated when placed in care
* Children have diverse needs that sometimes require one-on-one attention and caseworkers assume foster parents wouldn’t want to take in sibling groups in this case
* Difficult to find foster and adoptive parents willing and able to take in sibling groups
* Overburdened caseworkers are unable to devote the time and effort required to find and maintain sibling placement
* Siblings enter care at different times and homes where their other siblings are placed do not have space or ability to take themIt always broke my heart when I'd read the children's stories on the Heart Gallery, where they'd say that they would prefer a home where they could stay together. Why should they have to choose, why do they even have to ask?!? I've also read stories of sacrifice from older siblings who stepped aside and allowed their younger siblings to be placed for adoptions separately because they knew it would give them a better chance. Then there's the two boys that came to Royal Family Kids' camp a few years while I was blessed to be a counselor. Camp was the highlight of their year, not just because of the activities and swimming but because they lived in separate homes and this is the one time they got to be together.
Although it is hard to imagine any sibling being separated, studies show that in families where the parents are unable to meet the children's needs, the sibling bond becomes even stronger. "Children in these families learn to depend on each other to cope with their common life experiences. If intervention intended to help the children results in their separation from each other, they suffer additional loss and grief…" (National Resource Center for Foster Care & Permanency Planning
While there is not much that we can personally do about most of the challenges that prevent siblings from being placed together, one area where foster parents, prospective foster parents and those looking to adopt can help is to be willing to consider a sibling group. Of course taking on multiple kids at once is not for everyone, and that is okay. But it is sad how few even know that it's an issue! My hope is that as we raise awareness, more will prayerfully consider it and step up to fulfill this need. The greatest challenge is in placing sibling groups of three or more, especially when one is older than seven (everyone wants the babies!). If siblings must be placed apart for whatever reason, it would be amazing if we could find a way to help them keep in touch and see each other as often as possible. There are also organizations like Camp To Belong that focus on allowing siblings to reunite in a fun, safe environment.
Did you know that siblings were being separated in foster care? I knew, but was absolutely shocked to discover that it was as much as 75% of the time! Do you know of a group or organization that is working to help siblings in the foster care system, whether it be to keep them together, help them reunite, or help them keep in touch? What are they doing? I would love to hear your stories!