Fostering Sibling Groups
There are many different factors that need to be addressed when fostering siblings. Research has shown that for many foster children, the relationship with their brothers and sisters is what they value most. For this reason, social workers will aim to find foster carers who can offer a home where the children can be kept together. This is because children will often say that the relationships with their siblings are the most important thing they have. If there is no option but to separate them when they go into foster care, this can be the most painful aspect of them being placed in care. As no two situations are ever the same, it is not uncommon for siblings to enter foster care at different times. When this happens, the likelihood is that they will remain separated for the rest of their childhood. This can create a real feeling of loss, so where possible, it is always desirable that contact be kept up between siblings. Facilitating regular contact between siblings is one of the most important things that foster carers can do. Splitting siblings can trigger feelings of loss and abandonment which can have significant consequences for the emotional and mental well being of the children concerned. Feelings of anger, resentment and upset are common. When placed apart, the placements are less likely to be stable and this can have negative effects in the short, medium and long term. These can include increased risk of poor educational performance; problems in adulthood – such as unemployment, homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction and criminal behaviour.
Children are not always full biological siblings. It is not uncommon for half siblings to be living in the same home. In certain instances, children may not be biologically related at all but think of themselves as brothers and sisters as they have lived together a long time. Brothers and sisters may have a whole series of other relationships to be considered – such as between grandparents and other relatives. More rarely, it cannot be assumed that siblings will always want to be together. The difference in ages can be a major consideration: two teenagers close in age will require a very different approach from, for example, three siblings all under the age of eight. No two sets of circumstances are ever the same.
Where the children’s relationships with their parents have broken down – which might have been caused by abuse or neglect – the bonds between the children can be extremely strong. Their relationship, in what may have been a disorderly and chaotic home, may be the only constant they have ever known. Although it is widely recognised that the bonds between siblings can be extremely important, sadly it is common for separation to occur when they enter care.
In certain situations, siblings are not placed together as there may be a history of sexualised behaviour, or aggressive violent behaviour.
Research into sibling placements
There is research where there are certain clear cut results indicating:
- Children who have been put in placement away from their siblings are more likely to have experienced rejection at home;
- Children who have been placed apart are more likely to have experienced abuse or neglect;
- Children who have experienced rejection and then been placed apart, are less likely to have stable placements than if they had been placed together;
- Relationships between brothers and sisters can have both positive and negative effects on their placements;
- Children who have other siblings still at home are more likely to experience a disrupted placement.
Generally, sibling groups can range from 2 to 5 children. Sometimes where more children are involved, the group may be split in two - perhaps along gender lines, or proximity of age.
Summary: why the need for foster carers for siblings is urgent
In the UK there is now a serious lack of carers generally – with a real shortage of foster carers for sibling groups. In the main, where brothers and sisters can be kept together, there are enormous benefits for them. When a sibling group can be kept together, they have a shared experience of fostering – as well as shared life experiences. This can provide them with a sense of security and stability, making all the difference to their future lives. When children enter care, staying with their siblings enhances their feelings of safety and well-being: being together provides the most natural form of mutual support. Relationships between siblings are powerful emotionally and crucially, they are vital not only during childhood but over a lifetime. Sibling relationships are usually the longest most people experience over the course of a lifetime. There can be no greater gift than keeping them intact. The history siblings share maintains bonds along with continuity of identity and experience. Being a sibling – especially if the group is large – means membership of a child’s first peer group. Here they will learn a range of social skills – especially those concerning negotiation, sharing and conflict management. These benefits are in stark consequence to the consequences, often traumatic, of separation. These can encompass anxiety, disorientation, grief and worry over the well-being of their brothers and sisters.
At Rainbow we offer training and support and the level of payment for caring for sibling groups is enhanced. Call us or email your details if you are in a position to consider fostering siblings. We would be delighted to hear from you. Normally all that is required for fostering is a spare room, but with siblings – depending upon age and gender – a second room may be required. Cases like the one below (name and location changed) are sadly all too common.
Michael Evans, 22, now a postal worker, grew up in Lancashire without his three brothers and his sister. The family was split up after his mother, could no longer cope. The children were placed into care on Christmas Eve when he was four. Michael awoke on Christmas Day to find himself in a children’s home. By the time he reached the age of nine, he had only one brother with him in care. His family was never reunited. Michael feels a continuing sense of separation and loss…