If you have ever considered being a foster carer, you might be concerned about what it would be like to have a new child or young person in your home. You may not know the details about the child, at least not immediately, but you do know that the child has suffered a traumatic experience.
Once you learn about fostering and discuss foster care with a fostering agency and other foster carers, you will become more comfortable with the expectations of fostering. You will also learn that you are part of a team that has experience, skills, knowledge, and support that is always available for you. You will begin to understand the value of a career in fostering and the positive changes that a loving home can bring to a child.
If you are considering fostering, why not take those thoughts a little further and think about fostering siblings. You might be surprised to learn that there is an urgent need for foster families who are able to take in sibling groups.
In looking at the general population of the UK, we can see that 80% of the population has at least one sibling. Since children taken into care by local authorities come from a cross section of the general population, it is reasonable to anticipate that many of them will be taken into care in a sibling group.
Across the UK, 86% of fostering services have a need for carers for sibling groups. Yes, there is a desperate need for foster families who have the space and the ability to take in a small family of siblings.
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4 reasons why siblings should be placed together
- Our relationship with our siblings is usually the longest lasting relationship we will have in the family. We spend our earliest days with our siblings and as we grow older, we share our common history and memories until the day we die.If you have doubts about the impact of our siblings on our personalities, think of all the emphasis on our position in the family; first borns, middle children, babies of the family. This is how many of us define ourselves and our interaction with other people. We define ourselves in terms of our relationship to our siblings.
- For children removed from an abusive or violent home, often the only support or sense of security that they have known comes from their siblings. They band together to protect themselves from their parents and they find their sense of belonging and comfort with each other. When the status quo, as bad as it might have been, is disrupted by being removed from the home, being able to remain with the sibling group provides security and cohesiveness.When siblings remain together in foster care, they are not plagued by fears about each other and where they have been taken to and whether they will ever be reunited. As a part of a sibling unit, a child might not feel comfortable being alone. They can feel isolated and helpless without the support of their brothers and sisters. It’s bad enough that they lost their home. If they lost their entire family, it can be devastating.
- Studies have shown that older children taken into care and separated from their younger siblings often have a very difficult time with feeling like they are part of the foster family. The rupture of their own family is so overwhelming, it is possible that they are incapable of forming a bond with a foster family.
- Knowing that they will not be apart from their siblings, that they will be with someone they love, has been shown to have a very positive effect on their outcome in later life.
How great is the need for sibling group fostering?
The short answer is that the need is huge and urgent. Here are some statistics that reveal just how many children in care, are part of a sibling group. Looking at one specific day, in this case, 30 June 2015, 48% of the children with a placement order were part of a sibling group. Looking at another specific day, 31 March 2015, 51% of the children with a placement order were part of a sibling group. These figures hovered around the 50% mark in 2016 as well.
Specifically looking at the Midlands area, Capstone reports that from 16 January 2017 until the present, 555 of the 3692 referrals received were requesting support for siblings being placed together. To put that into percentages, 14% or 1 in 7 referrals were for siblings.
In spite of this demand for sibling fostering, it is not what usually happens. Studies have shown that about one-third of children taken into care are separated from their siblings. This can add so much more stress to the chaos of being taken into care.
Why are siblings not placed together?
Whether to keep a sibling group together is often a matter of timing. If the brothers and sisters are taken into care at the same time, they stand a better chance of being placed together. Once they are placed together, they stand a better chance of remaining together in care.
Another factor is the age of the siblings. Younger siblings, especially if they are close in age and of the same gender are more apt to be placed together.
The size of a sibling group is also a factor. A larger sibling group is unlikely to be placed together although they have a strong possibility of being placed with at least one sibling.
Behavioural difficulties are another factor in splitting up a sibling group.
Last but not least, the lack of foster families who are able to accommodate a sibling group is a major factor in separating a sibling group. It may even be said that this is the underlying reason for the separation of most sibling groups in foster care.
While a sibling group may only include two children, it is just as likely to be 3 or 4 children or more. The larger the group, the rarer it is to have a foster home big enough to take them all in.
What environment do sibling groups need?
The first questions asked about prospective foster families is whether there is a separate bedroom for a foster child. It is a mandate of the fostering services that every child over the age of three has his or her own bedroom. Exceptions can be made. If the room is large enough, it is possible for siblings to share a bedroom. In some cases, this can provide comfort and security to the foster siblings who have been taken from their usual home and now find themselves in an unknown situation.
If foster carers have a spare double bedroom, bunk beds or two single beds can be set up for siblings to share. Local authorities insist that each child has his or her own space but when it comes to siblings, they accept that siblings up to the age of 10, or thereabouts, may share a bedroom. If foster carers have two spare rooms available, so much the better for fostering older children.
Can you foster siblings if you already have a child in care?
Again, it is about space. If you have the room available so that each child has a separate room unless they are siblings under the age of 10, yes you may take in sibling groups even if you are already looking after a child in care or have a child born into your family.
Be aware that fostering siblings requires a lot of time as well as patience and understanding. Suddenly you must absorb the pain and fear of more than one child who is new to being fostered by you. You have to do this while maintaining equilibrium with the child already in your home.
Having siblings enter care in your home together can bring with it a built-in support system for each brother and sister in the sibling group. They have each other for support and for a feeling of familiarity.
When any fostering placement is made, the placements team works with the supervising social worker, they take into consideration the children already in your home as well as the space you have available. If you already have siblings in your care, the same process takes place if you wish to take in another child from a separate family. The important component is to place children where they have the best chance at thriving and avoiding placement breakdowns.
Are there negative aspects to placing siblings together?
It varies from sibling group to sibling group, but there are circumstances where it is advisable to not place a sibling group together. Sibling groups are not always cohesive. Relationship difficulties between siblings can be caused by sibling jealousies or family dynamics.
The decision of whether there may be an issue in placing siblings together, is made by a team who analyse the family dynamics. A specialist is available to work with the foster family or families and the children to make the most advantageous arrangement possible. The sibling relationship problems might only arise during the process of being taken into care. Patient parenting skills and loving support can overcome some of these issues.
There is a shortage of carers who are able to take sibling groups into their homes and it can become all too easy to separate siblings if there seems to be a relationship issue between them. In other cases, placing them together is not in the best interests of the children even if there is a foster home for them.
If siblings are not placed together, foster carers are asked to support the children in a way that allows them to maintain contact with their brothers and sisters so they can continue to see one another and maintain a sibling relationship.
What support is available?
In any emergency that causes children to be removed from their home, the emotional impact can be quite devastating. A social worker will be in attendance and a sibling group placement is discussed in advance of any decision. The fostering agency works closely with its foster carers. Because of this, the agency is aware of which foster carers have the space and the interest in providing a caring home to brothers and sisters.
Sibling groups are one of the most difficult placements. They may be considered “harder to place”. Because of this, the placements team is constantly aware of the possibilities available. As mentioned above, one reason why siblings are not always placed together is the lack of a foster home that has the space. The recruitment efforts to expand the network of foster carers are constantly ongoing.
The fostering agency is always looking ahead to possible fostering requirements and always aware of the current availability of foster homes. It is a challenging balancing act where the best effort is always made to find the perfect placement.
Why foster siblings?
One foster carer explained the benefits of fostering siblings this way:
“Fostering siblings has been an amazing experience for us, we are both from large families ourselves and so realise the importance of family. We would not have it any other way now, yes sometimes they clash but what siblings don’t, we just manage the situations and encourage positive relationships with each other.”
Sibling groups placed together experienced greater stability of placement and better mental health. It has been proven that they have better educational outcomes, which in turn leads to a more positive adulthood.
Better fostering for sibling groups
The primary solution for fostering more sibling groups is recruiting more foster carers who are capable of fostering sibling groups. This means that more foster parents with bigger homes, and thus more bedrooms, are needed. Foster parents who take in a sibling group also need to have the experience in looking after different children, each of whom could have different needs. They also need to be able to make it possible for the children to have contact with other siblings who may have been placed in a separate foster home.
Fostering siblings can be demanding but the results of providing a happy home to children who may be frightened and taken away from the home they have known has been shown over and over again to be very positive.
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