Why Keeping Siblings Together in Foster Care is Important

I’ve recently been working with the Denver Juvenile Courts, the Denver Department of Human Services and the Office of the Child’s Representative around the issue of keeping siblings together. We’re trying to assess the current situation and write a paper to share at a conference in August. While the lawyers comb through the law, I’ve been looking at the social science research. As you can imagine, it is very supportive of keeping kids together. Kids that stay together have better outcomes.

While doing the research, I found a really important article called Sibling Issues in Foster Care and Adoption.  It does an amazing job summarizing all the moving parts around the issue. As a quick note, the Child Welfare Information Gateway  is an incredible resource and I highly recommend anyone interested in a particular subject start here. (I mention that more for myself! It seems like every time I look into something, I forget to go to this website first.)

The article begins with a definition of family and especially “siblings”, which can be very different for different kids. A sibling could be someone related biologically, but it could also mean someone not related by “blood”. If a bond exists and the child considers someone family, we should try to get keep them together. I thought that was a great point to make. I also learned an interesting term that frankly I had not heard before: Fictive Kin.

One of the reasons siblings are important is that siblings are a child’s first peer group. Imagine how many “social skills” you developed through these relationships: “sharing”, “managing conflict” and the ever present skill of “negotiation”. Even if you were an only child—living in a stable household—you probably had cousins or even fictive kin. What is more, research shows that children who experienced foster care “made siblings proportionally more important”. In other words, these relationships have a greater significance because of the foster care experience.

Other research cited in the article shows that sibling connections result in less feeling of loneliness, less behavior problems and a higher self-worth. Children that stay connected to their siblings are more resilient and do better dealing with the loss of parents. While this might seem obvious, what I thought was interesting is that sibling relationships carry over into adulthood and create better outcomes for these children later in life. Lastly, keeping siblings together results in better outcomes for the case, such as higher rates of family reunification, greater chances for adoption and better stability.

The CASA program is in a powerful position to help. We can advocate to keep kids together. When we can’t keep them together, we can help maintain those relationships by advocating for visits or even helping to facilitate those visits.