Keeping Siblings Together
October 30, 2011
Not long ago I came across a case involving a sibling group of 6 which until recently kept me awake at night.
A few months ago I dealt with a case involving 6 children. The children were aged 10 days to 12 years old. All six children had been taken into care and split between 6 different placements. Two of the children were placed with two different family members, and the other 4 were placed with four different foster families. The children got to see each other 2 hours every week.
What kept me up at night was the 12 year old boy, the eldest of the 6 children. I could imagine how he was feeling – the confusion, the despair and the grief at losing all meaningful contact with his brothers and sisters. I wondered how he was getting on, and how he was managing to cope. I felt his pain, but despite my best attempts there was absolutely nothing I could do for him.
I remember when I was 12 and my sister went to live with her new foster family, leaving me behind in a children’s home. I put a brave face on because I didn’t want anyone to see how upset I was at being separated from my sister. We had grown up together, we had travelled through the care system together and we had shared many upsetting and joyful times together. It was hard saying goodbye, and not knowing if I would ever see her again.
I recently heard that the 12 year old boy has been reunited with his 2 siblings in kinship care, and is living with his great aunt. No words could describe how happy I was to hear of this development.
I get quite angry when I hear of children who are placed with strangers or put into residential care, and then a few months later they are placed with members of their own family. The system is so crisis led that when children are removed from parents the best they can hope for is to placed in foster care or in a local childrens home. I think these children deserve better.
I am of the opinion that when a child comes to the attention of social services at an early stage, that social service professionals should preempt the child coming into care. Social services should identify suitable kin, carry out an assessment, including a Police Check and develop a contingency plan. So, if the situation with the child deteriorates to the point where the child has to be removed from his/her parents, there is a contingency plan in place which ensures children avoid being taken into foster care/residential care.
I don’t think the social care system fully appreciates the trauma experienced by already traumatised children when they are placed with strangers; or the impact on sibling groups who are split up before being placed with members of their own family. I think we under estimate the bond siblings share when they grow up in difficult and challenging circumstances.
19 years after leaving care and I barely know my sister. We don’t share special occasions and we have little if anything in common. Our relationship is strained and we have difficulty communicating with each other. Our relationship is alot different from what it was when we were in care. My sister and I are merely strangers connected by early life experiences and the same surname.
We owe it to these children to make sure the system works for them, not the other way round.
A fantastic charity working to keep siblings connected who are separated across a range of different care arrangements is SiblingsTogether