Since 2008 and the passage of the Fostering Connections to Success Act, a concerted effort has been made nationwide to place siblings in the same foster care, kinship guardianship or adoptive placement. But what happens when siblings can’t be placed together? How do you, as a foster parent, care for a young boy who has been separated from his older brother?
Siblings can provide security, comfort and strength during a traumatic time. This is why such a strong emphasis has been placed on making sure siblings stick together in foster care.
But sometimes that’s not possible.
Whether it’s due to the specific needs of the siblings or the lack of foster homes that can accommodate larger sibling groups, sometimes brothers and sisters are separated and end up in different homes.
For a 10-year-old boy, being separated from his 15-year-old brother can be just as difficult as being removed from his parents. Feelings of anxiety and depression are common when dealing with this type of loss.
As a foster parent, you can help.
When siblings are placed in separate foster homes, they are often placed nearby. This makes visitations possible. Working with your caseworker and the other foster family, you could help arrange for regular visits between brothers. These visits will help preserve sibling bonds and reassure your foster child that he isn’t alone.
“When siblings cannot be placed together, facilitating regular contact is critical to maintaining these relationships,” according to a 2013 Bulletin from Child Welfare Information Gateway. “Regular contact may even affect permanency outcomes. Findings from the Child and Family Services Reviews conducted in all States found a significant association between visiting with parents and siblings and both permanency and well-being outcomes.”
You can also arrange other forms of contact. If the distance makes face-to-face visits difficult, you can work with your caseworker and the other foster family to help facilitate contact through calls, social media or email.
Another option is planning joint outings or camp experiences for the brothers to attend. In NJ, Foster and Adoptive Family Services (FAFS) offers camp scholarships for children in foster care. This week of overnight camp also serves as a chance for siblings to reunite for a few fun-filled days. To learn more about camp scholarships, click here.
While all these options are likely to help separated siblings, emotional issues may still linger. Visitations with his brother may bring about intense feelings that the child needs to work through. This doesn’t necessarily mean visits shouldn’t occur. Instead, it could mean that you, as a foster parent, need to help encourage him to express his emotions by asking him how he feels. It’s important to be reassuring and make him feel as safe as possible. In many cases, therapy is also recommended and siblings are urged to use the same therapist.
As a foster parent, dealing with sibling separation isn’t easy. But if there’s a silver lining to a tough situation, it’s that less and less brothers and sisters are being placed in different homes.
In NJ alone, 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 in the same home. In 2011 that number jumped to 78.7 percent, according to the NJ Department of Children and Families.
While this might not be a comfort to a foster parent with a child dealing with sibling separation, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. If you are a licensed resource family in NJ and you need help or have specific questions, you can always reach out to your FAFS Family Advocate.
Lloyd Nelson is the Digital Media Manager of Foster and Adoptive Family Services. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.