My sister, who used to be my closest friend and biggest support, is now somebody I no longer know. When my sister and I were children and early teenagers, we were inseparable. We may have fought like siblings, but we always had each other’s backs. We played together, did so much together, and even had our own secret language. We could tell what mood the other was in and what they were thinking with just a glance. We knew each other really well, never had any issues communicating, and had so much fun together. That all changed when I was 16 and entered into foster care, while my sister stayed with our aunt and uncle.
Throughout my teen years, I was in and out of inpatient care, outpatient care, and residential treatment centers because of undiagnosed depression, anxiety, PTSD, dissociative identity disorder, and more. My aunt and uncle didn’t know how to deal with my severe mental health issues and eventually made the decision to put me in foster care. Once I was placed with a family, I had a social worker and guardian ad litem who were responsible for my case and care. I made it abundantly clear to all the adults in my life that I wanted to stay in contact with my sister. But no matter who I told and how often I told them, it was always denied. The worst part was I was never told why. The separation from my sister/best friend was so hard on me. We had been through a lot of stuff together, things no child should ever have to go through. Yet, we always had each other to lean on. Once I was in this new environment with a family I didn’t know, I no longer had access to the one person who had always been a constant in my life.
Now that my sister and I are adults, and I’m in a much better place both physically and mentally, I’ve gone to see her a few times when it was possible. The times we’ve met up have been awkward and frustrating. We no longer know how to communicate with each other, what to talk about, or what to do in each other’s presence. Most of my messages to her are opened but left unanswered. It’s like we’re two strangers. But it would be easier to communicate to a stranger than it has been with my sister because a stranger wouldn’t have this loss and trauma connected to them. It was extremely hard losing such an important person in my life. We barely talk anymore because we don’t know how to have a conversation. We only had each other for so long, and now that connection is gone. My sister has been having her own mental health struggles recently that have been impacting so many other areas of her life. It’s so hard to watch her struggle, watch our aunt and uncle cut all contact from her, and know there’s very little I can do to help.
Separating fosters from their siblings and support systems for any reason can be detrimental to all involved, both in the moment and in the future. According to a review in the Journal of Public Child Welfare, it is estimated that more than 50% of children end up living apart from at least one sibling after they enter foster care. For most of these children, that separation can be traumatic. Even when we were not allowed to contact each other in high school, I never thought I’d lose my sister – until it happened.
Trust fosters when they are asking for sibling and support connections. Because of the system, my sister and I don’t know each other anymore. Every adult involved in a foster care case is responsible for this. Even if an adult doesn’t have the authority to make a visit happen, they should raise their voice and speak up until it does. I wish any adult in my case — my aunt and uncle, my foster parents, my foster parents’ adult children, my social worker, my guardian ad litem, my therapist, and everyone else I told — had actually heard my request and spoken up until I got to see my sister again.
I told the adults that were supposed to support me over and over again that my sister was really important to me. It felt like I had no control over who I could see and when. It felt like I was being punished for my mental health issues. When nobody told me why, it led to a lot of negative self-talk. I thought my sister being taken away from me was my fault. I thought I deserved it, that I wasn’t a good person, and that I was going to corrupt her or make things worse for her. It only made things worse for me.
The foster care system was supposed to provide me the care and safety my aunt and uncle couldn’t. But the way the system separated me and kept me away from my sister, didn’t listen to me, and treated me like I didn’t have a voice, failed me on many levels. They didn’t support me, and they broke the relationship I had with my sister. I want other fosters to keep those relationships. Everyone deserves to stay connected to the people who make them feel safe, that they lean on, and that they love. And if it really is impossible to keep those relationships, they need to know why. More action needs to be done to keep sibling relationships intact.