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.