When a child is removed from her home, there is no one who understands the trauma of parental separation and loss like a sibling. The bonds between brothers and sisters are strong and unique. They can provide security, comfort and strength during what is an unimaginably difficult time.
It’s with this in mind that an emphasis has been placed on placing siblings together in foster care.
Placing siblings together in foster care
After the passage of 2008’s federal Fostering Connections to Success Act, a “reasonable effort” has been made nationwide to place siblings in the same foster care, kinship guardianship, or adoptive placement.
Studies of siblings in the child welfare system suggest that 60 percent to 73 percent of U.S. foster children have siblings who also enter foster care, according to 2011 statistics from the National Resource Center for Family Centered Practice and Permanency Planning.
As such large contingents of children who enter foster care do so with their siblings, it’s become a priority to place them together immediately. According to the National Resource Center for Family Centered Practice and Permanency Planning: “Siblings who entered the foster care system within 30 days of each other had almost 4 times the odds of residing together than children who entered care at different times.”
In New Jersey, the percentage of sibling groups placed together has grown exponentially. In 2004, about 63 percent of sibling groups (between two and three siblings) were placed together. In 2011 that number jumped to 78.7 percent, according to the NJ Department of Children and Families. For sibling groups of four or more, the numbers have risen from 26 percent in 2004 to 34.7 percent in 2011.
Should Siblings Be Placed Together – Why place siblings together in foster care
So the trend is clearly upward when it comes to placing siblings together, but why is it a prerogative? Because, in most cases, it’s what the children want. In a sponsored essay contest for foster children in a North Carolina publication for foster and adoptive families, foster children wrote why their siblings are important to them:
“My sister is only three years old, but she has a big heart with me in it. Jayden is braver than me—she is not scared of the dark like me. When I was left alone in a big house all I had was my sister to keep me company till someone returned. I love her…” –Joseph, age 7
For foster children, being with their brothers and sisters promotes a sense of safety and well-being, and being separated from them can trigger grief and anxiety, according to studies cited by ChildWelfare.gov.
Should Siblings Be Placed Together – Why separating siblings in foster care is avoided
Separating siblings in foster care is almost always avoided unless refusal to do so creates a safety issue.
“Separating siblings who have been temporarily or permanently removed from their parents can severely intensify grief and trauma. In some cases sibling separations can be even more traumatic than separation from parents,” according to Sharon Connor in “Siblings in Out-of-Home Care,” published by the National Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice and Permanency at the Hunter College of Social Work.
A 2011 study from the National Resource Center for Family Centered Practice and Permanency Planning said that preschoolers placed with siblings had a higher rate of psychological problems prior to placement, but despite this history, showed significantly fewer emotional and behavioral problems in placement than those separated from their siblings.
The emotional power sibling relationships hold makes them a critical piece in maintaining a child’s psychological health, not only through childhood, but well into adulthood. Sibling relationships provide a sense of continuity and will often be the longest relationship in one’s lifetime. Siblings offer each other a sense of safety and well-being, especially in cases of abuse and neglect. It’s because of these short-term and long-term effects that siblings are placed together.