Brother sister & sibling groups helping kids in Foster care
How to help siblings stay together in Virginia Foster care
It is estimated that over half of children in foster care across the U.S. have one or more siblings who are also in the care of Social Services. Some estimates project that around 75% of children placed in foster care are placed in separate homes from one or more of their siblings. As researchers and advocates in the field of child welfare continue to study outcomes and postulate best practices, more attention is being drawn to the importance of keeping siblings together in foster care. While one foster child is all that some families are willing to care for at a time, there is a great need for families who are willing to take in sibling sets. Research continues to reveal that children tend to do better emotionally and behaviorally when placed with at least one of their siblings. Recent data also shows that children are more likely to meet their permanency goals when placed with their siblings.
Adapting to a life in foster care can be a significant strain on a child. Not only are they leaving behind their familiar environment, but they are forced to adjust to new caregivers, new routines, and often new schools. However, when placed with a sibling, this allows children some continuity in the life they are leaving behind and the life they are entering. Maintaining sibling relationships in foster care also assists children in meeting critical developmental milestones. When placed together, siblings have the opportunity to mirror, model, and engage with one another. Sibling relationships may also provide emotional support, companionship, and a sense of belonging. This can be a substantial protective factor in the adjustment process, as the sibling connection offers some comfort and security in a suddenly changed world.
As child welfare research continues to expand, more and more studies are revealing that more positive outcomes are associated with placing siblings together, and more negative outcomes are associated with separating siblings. Positive outcomes refer to higher levels of emotional, psychological, and behavioral stability, as well as an increased likelihood of achieving permanency (reunification, adoption, or guardianship). Adverse outcomes refer to higher levels of problematic behaviors and increased risk of placement instability and disruption. Studies have shown that when children are separated from their siblings, they often report feeling as though they have lost a part of themselves. This sense of loss can further the pain of the separation from their parents and the transition to a new home. This increased sense of separateness often leads to heightened feelings of insecurity, depression, loneliness, and anxiety. However, for siblings placed together, studies show that these children tend to bond more easily with their foster parents.
The research is consistent in its findings; siblings placed together tend to fare better in the foster care system than siblings set apart. While the analysis is relatively straightforward in recommending joint placement for siblings, actually facilitating these joint placements is not. One of the biggest obstacles to placing children together is limited families who are willing and experienced enough to accept sibling groups. Another obstacle is the needs presented by the children. Siblings coming into care often have diverse needs, with some of the siblings potentially having much higher requirements than others. Many children coming into foster care have special needs that require significant levels of intervention and personalized attention. This is not always possible for families to manage.
Additionally, siblings often enter care at different times (referred to as “serial entry”). When this happens, these children may enter care through various agencies and possibly different localities, making it more difficult for social workers to arrange for a joint placement. In less common cases, placing siblings together is not recommended. This is often for safety reasons if one of the siblings presents a risk to the other siblings due to violent behavior, sexual abuse, or verbal abuse. In these cases where joint placement cannot be achieved, finding ways to preserve the sibling bond through supervised contacts such as visitation opportunities and phone contact is encouraged.
Joint placement is more than just beneficial for siblings; it is a crucial intervention for emotional, psychological, and behavioral stability. As that is, it is vital to continually advocate for the preservation of these relationships and to recruit and train families who are willing and able to meet the needs of sibling groups.