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A few weeks ago we hosted The Barker Foundations Annual Conference. We had an excellent turn out of individuals invested in all spectrums of adoption. One of my favorite workshops was held by Chauncey Strong, MSW, LGSW. Mr. Strong is the Fairfax County Department of Family Services Foster Care Supervisor, Board Member for the Foster Care Alumni of America and an adopted person.
Chauncey spoke to the class about the importance of sibling connections for children in the foster care system. We hear a lot about maintaining birth parent connections with infant adoptions and connections to the country of origin for international adoptions but what about connections for children in the foster care system? It is said that about 65% - 85% of children in care are part of a sibling group and it is estimated that more than ½ are separated from at least one sibling.
There are several reasons why siblings should be kept together. Chauncey focused on 5 very important reasons including:
1) Attachments to and connectedness with family members – majority of the children in the foster care system are there due to some type of abuse or neglect. When they are separated from their birth family their siblings are their only connection to the past and to their family.
2) Placement together minimizes the trauma of parental separation – when children are kept together it tends to minimize the trauma because they have one another to reach out to for support and they are not going through the experience alone.
3) Preference of children – Foster and pre-adoptive families might be more inclined to adopt a younger child in a sibling group because they are not educated on the long term effects of the separation.
4) Siblings provide emotional support to each other – when siblings are kept together they can provide emotional support to each other and they are not going through the experience alone.
5) Children from dysfunctional homes may have stronger ties to their siblings than their parents – we often hear of children who are “parentified” meaning they take on the role of the parent. Many of the children in foster care have stronger ties to their siblings because they have been responsible for taking care of each other.
Although there may be situations where siblings cannot be adopted together, as adoptive parents and foster parents, you can help maintain connections with siblings by phone, email, skype and letters. We also need more families willing to adopt larger sibling groups (3 or more siblings). There are lots of resources to help families’ parent larger sibling groups! You can view some sibling groups that are currently awaiting families on www.adoptuskids.org.