“I see my sister for an hour once a month. That equals 12 hours a year,” says a young person living in foster care. “I see my brothers four times a year,” says another.
More than half of our children in foster care have one or more siblings in the system, and between 60 and 73 percent of sibling groups do not live in the same foster home.
When children are separated in foster care, research indicates that many children feel “they have lost a part of themselves,” which compounds the anxiety and pain they feel over separation from their parents and the transition to a new home.
We know that while living together under the same roof with their parents, siblings experience and observe the strife that led them to displacement. During that time they develop a bond. When they are separated they feel a void in belonging and certainty. As their communication decreases, so does their ability to share milestones. Research suggests that separating siblings may make it difficult for them to begin a healing process, make attachments, and develop a healthy self-image.
Legislation and programs to connect brothers and sisters have taken center stage for kids entering foster care. The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 amended Title IV-E, the federal child welfare entitlement program, to require that states make reasonable efforts to place siblings removed from their home in the same foster care, adoption or guardianship placement. If that is not possible, agencies are required under federal law to facilitate visits or ongoing contacts for kids who cannot be placed together, unless it is contrary to safety or well-being. Some states have built on this by also creating a Sibling Bill of Rights.
Neighbor to Family has contracts with private agencies to offer a specialized foster care program designed to specifically support sibling groups. There are educational programs like Supporting Siblings in Foster Care, a 12-session program that provides sibling pairs with opportunities to learn and practice social skills, emotional regulation, problem solving and other skills. The National Center for Child Practice Excellence offers a Sibling Practice Curriculum.
At Camp To Belong, we understand the realities that siblings living in foster care face. We value keeping sisters and brothers connected. Our summer camps and year-round programs are designed to intentionally nurture the sibling connection.
Our colleagues at Elevating Connections in Colorado, St. Jude’s Ranch for Children in Nevada, Kindred Matters in Oregon and Sibling Connections in Massachusetts offer year-round sibling preservation programs. Together We Rise, in California, offers an annual visit to Disneyland for family members separated in foster care.
Maintaining sibling ties is critical to building lifelong family connections. Siblings oftentimes have the longest relationships in life, surpassing the parent-child relationship. As we re-envision foster care, let us ensure that sisters and brothers have access to one another.
The Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America conference is coming up November 1-2 in Boston. Click here to register! #REFCA2019
Lynn Price is the founder of Camp To Belong in Littleton, Mass.