The Strength of Siblings – Maintaining Sibling Bonds in Foster Care Placements
The early years of a child’s life create the foundation for the person that he or she will become. Just like physical surroundings, the people who are present during childhood years play a huge role in encouraging a positive trajectory for a child’s future.
Think of your own childhood. Are your fondest memories full of family members? Elementary school teachers? Playground friends? Siblings?
As children, sibling bonds are often some of the first relationships that we form. These relationships are instrumental to personal development, not only in childhood, but over the course of a lifetime.
For children who have been removed from their birth homes and placed in a foster care setting, sibling connections take on an entirely new importance.
Imagine the feelings of uncertainty and instability that children experience when entering the foster care system. Wouldn’t anyone long for a source of comfort during such times of change? In the ideal scenario, siblings are there to act as a buffer against tough circumstances. They are present to offer a natural sense of support and companionship.
According to the National Center for Youth Law, it is estimated that well over half of the children in foster care have one or more siblings also in care. But, for a variety of reasons, siblings may not be placed together upon entering care.
The Child Welfare Information Gateway quotes 16-year-old Arlene, a teenager in foster care, who said, “[When they] moved us and placed [my siblings] all in different homes, I felt as if God was punishing me for something. It broke my heart.”
Being separated from siblings can trigger a sense of loss in the heart and mind of a child. Children in foster care are already experiencing significant loss of relationships by being removed from their birth homes, but having a sibling present through an uncertain journey can lessen feelings of grief and anxiety.
For those who champion child welfare, it is essential to work toward maintaining and strengthening sibling bonds, for several key reasons:
- Sibling relationships provide consistency and continuity throughout a child’s life. They offer a sense of home and stability amidst uncertain circumstances.
- Sibling bonds are often the longest relationships that individuals experience in their lifetime, especially when ties with a biological parent are cut short.
- Sibling placements increase the likelihood of achieving permanency and stability.
- Sibling bonds encourage a sense of personal identity within children who may feel a detachment from their community and culture.
Wellroot foster parents Aaron and Teresa Williams have experience with “splintered placements,” or separated sibling placements, as well as full sibling group placements.
Once, the Williams fostered a child who had two siblings in a different placement. It was apparent that the split had an effect on him, although the Williams made an intentional effort to organize meetups for the siblings.
“You can tell that he missed his other siblings,” Teresa said. “Although he was young, he would tell us that ‘I miss my brother.’”
According to Aaron, the reason to keep siblings together boils down to one simple word.
“They are family,” Aaron said of the full sibling group currently placed in his and Teresa’s home. “If they don’t know anyone else in life, they should know one another. The kids can acknowledge that someone else is taking care of them because their parents are unable, but the siblings need to have the perspective that ‘We are family.’”
Throughout their fostering journey, Aaron and Teresa have first handedly observed the benefits of keeping siblings together. We are thankful for families, like the Williams, who are consistently willing to do what it takes and make the adjustments needed to ensure that their home is open for an entire group of siblings.
The Child Welfare Information Gateway shares research that shows that siblings who are all placed together show more closeness to their foster caregivers and like living in the foster home when compared to children who were in “splintered” placements. When sibling separation is taken out of the mix, children have more opportunity to focus on adjustment and adaptation to their new environment. The fear and worry that their siblings aren’t OK is taken out of the equation, and kids have a better chance of feeling like… well, a kid.
According to the National Center for Youth Law, it is more apparent than ever that sibling bonds are important and worthy of advocacy. “For many years, the sibling relationship was largely ignored in social science research and child welfare laws. In recent decades, however, both research scientists and policymakers have come to acknowledge the importance of the sibling bond, leading to a flurry of research, policymaking, litigation, and development of innovative programs directing attention to these relationships.”
Our caseworkers and Wellroot employees are trained on the importance of maintaining sibling bonds, and we are passionate about working with families to assess their capacity to care for a sibling group. We are here to ensure that families who care for sibling groups receive sufficient information and access to helpful resources.
The commitment to maintaining sibling bonds whenever possible leads to positive generational impact for the siblings who are given a chance to strengthen their familial bonds throughout childhood.
As a Wellroot foster parent, you have the opportunity to create this impact and make families stronger, together. To learn more about becoming a Wellroot Foster Parent, visit our website: fosternow.org.