Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sibling Bonds & Sibling Groups

I just finished reading an article as part of some online training to keep my foster care license current. The article I read was The Sibling Bond: Its Importance in Foster Care and Adoptive Placement written by Gloria Hochman, Ellen Feathers-Acuna, and Anna Huston of the National Adoption Center for the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse.

Although the article is nearly twenty years old, I learned some new things about the importance of maintaining sibling bonds in foster and adoptive children after reading it. These findings stood out to me in particular because despite having a degree in Human Development and Family Studies, most of the theories and research I studied in school dealt primarily with marriage relationships or relationships and attachments between parents (or caregivers) and their children, rather than relationships between siblings.

Here’s some of highlights taken directly from the article (bold italics mine):
*The bond between brothers and sisters is unique—it is the longest lasting relationship most people have, longer than the parent/child or husband/wife
*This bond exists in children raised in well-adjusted families, but it is even stronger for brothers and sisters from dysfunctional families.

*Sixty-five to 85 percent of children entering the foster care system have at least one sibling; about 30 percent have four or more. It is often difficult to find families willing to take all of them, and current estimates indicate that 75 percent of sibling groups end up living apart after they enter foster care.

*Studies have shown that even babies experience depression when they are separated from their brothers and sisters. In one such study, it was found that a 19-month-old girl was better able to cope with the separation from her parents than from her siblings. The children in this family were placed in different foster homes, resulting in the baby's loss of speech, refusal to eat, withdrawal, and an inability to accept affection. This pattern persisted even after she was reunited with her parents. It was not until her brothers and sisters rejoined the family that this little girl resumed her former behavior.
The article also pointed out the barriers to placing siblings together, both from a foster/adoptive parent’s perspective and from a social worker’s perspective. The article stated that foster families may be unwilling to take a sibling group because they have a perception that a sibling group might overburden a family.

The article went on to site barriers to placing sibling groups with families from a social worker's perspective, which included: a limited number of families willing to take sibling groups, the financial cost involved in since it is less costly to search for a family in the immediate area than to stretch across state lines or travel cross-country (which is often required when looking for a family willing to adopt a sibling group) and the fact that some social workers feel more comfortable placing a child with a traditional two-parent family although single parents and those with alternative lifestyles may be more receptive to adopting a sibling group.
--------------------------------------------------------------------Now for my personal thoughts on the subject of keeping sibling groups together (because, after all, the name of this blog is Adoption & Foster Care: My Personal Experiences)

Do I think that sibling groups should be kept together? Certainly- I can’t imagine the trauma and confusion of being separated from my brothers and sisters on a permanent basis as an adult OR most especially as a child.

Have I ever taken a sibling group as a placement? No . . . at least not yet.

I’ll readily admit that when my husband and I started the training to be foster parents the thought of taking a sibling group as a placement was a bit overwhelming to us. Perhaps that’s because we had never even been parents to one child before, let alone more than one child.

We took our first two placements before we ever had any children of our own: our first placement was a little boy who was an only child and our second placement was a baby girl who was placed separately from her half-sister. Even now that we have a little more parenting experience under our belts the thought of a sibling group still intimidates me somewhat.

Another practical reason a family may not be open to taking a sibling group which the article did not address is not so much because of unwillingness but because of lack of SPACE! I would like to think that in my imaginary idealist world my husband and I would constantly keep our huge home open to a continual influx of foster children. But the reality is that we don’t have a big house. In fact, if we are ever blessed with more than three children we will need to start looking for a bigger place.

Furthermore, even if we did have a huge house I just don’t know that our hearts are generous enough or brave enough to be foster parents on a continual basis like some families are. Being a foster parent can be very emotionally draining and to prevent burn-out our “quota” seems to be about one placement per year.

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