Sibling children in care need to be kept together; however, there is a shortage of foster carers. Sadly, according to a recent BBC article, ‘Thousands of children are split up in the care system’. More than 12000 children in care are not living with at least one of their siblings. Sadly, once children are separated, the effects of this separation could last a lifetime.
Many people who are looking to foster say their motivation for fostering siblings is to keep siblings together. It is a motivation factor driven by genuine kindness because we know that children should stay together; thus, it is natural to help where we can. However, many don’t understand the real challenge of fostering siblings.
Many foster carers who look after siblings understand that their differences are dependent on their roles in their previous family dynamics. This role is especially true for older siblings who may have taken on a parental role and have been the protector of younger siblings; they may often resent you. Consequently, these children can be ‘challenging ones’. Foster carers with siblings understand and give consistent support for every child, especially the least communicative ones. These ‘challenging’ children whose role has been protecting younger siblings may sadly have missed out on a childhood themselves. They know of no other role in life, and the biggest challenge is to enable these children to become what they should be; children.
According to a recent BBC article, more than 1200 children in care are not living with at least one of their siblings. They added that freedom of information requests sent to more than 200 local authorities revealed that Social Services separated more than half of the sibling groups in care. Many of them will have brothers and sisters; sadly, there is little data about the extent to which sibling groups are separated.
Separating sibling groups means children may permanently lose contact.
It is not uncommon for children in sibling groups to be separated. The state says that ‘wherever possible, we should keep sibling groups together.’ However, this often doesn’t happen and sadly, once separated, siblings will often lose touch with each other. This separation is hard for every child; however, older siblings whose role was the protector to younger siblings through shared trauma, sadly, know that the bond children have is their strength to survive trauma. These children have lived by their own rules to survive, but the common factor remains; as long as they stay together, they will be okay; but to separate them will be devastating.
‘There is a legal duty for children in care to have reasonable contact with their parents, but siblings are not specified by statute.’
The maternal protection given by an older sibling to their younger brothers and sisters is often the only stability of love they will have known. Equally, an older child who takes on the parental role develops powerful maternal feelings towards their younger siblings; they take on the protector’s role. This security and love older siblings give often prevent younger children from having long-term effects of their trauma; sadly, who helps the older child, who chases their monsters away?
Who will take the time to recognise they are children themselves; they have put others before them; subsequently, they need to understand the importance of being a child themselves?
Over 38% of children in care are over ten years old.
Over 38% of children in care are over ten years old. There is little data to see if these children have been a part of sibling groups; my guess is they have. There is also little evidence to substantiate if these children were a parent figure or a carer. Many young people have nurtured strong feelings for protecting and caring for others; these maternal feelings never switch off. Children who have always looked out for others, and not themselves, can feel rejected and often, they take this rejection personally. Sadly, many children in this situation often feel they are at fault; many older siblings think they didn’t do enough and feel they are to blame.
When children feel rejected, they can feel confused and hurt, and their self-esteem and confidence will hit an all-time low. They are vulnerable and feel responsible and feel this is what they are worth, and consequently, they won’t expect much. They are the uncommunicative ones, and thus, perceived as challenging. Sadly, a teenager coping with adolescence and the changes it brings is challenging enough. For me, the saddest thing is these young people never had a chance of being children themselves. Equally as low, I know of foster carers who will take younger siblings, however, not older ones; they are hard work.
‘If siblings stayed together, would there be fewer older children in care?‘
Therefore, the question remains. If siblings could stay together, would fewer older children be in care? Sadly, these older children are hardest to place with foster carers because they often label them with challenging behaviour. Ultimately, they need foster carers who understand and will look beyond the label. Identifying challenging behaviour in a child or young person is difficult; every child has layers. It’s like peeling an onion, and every layer has a unique trigger point. It takes very specialised support to help foster carers heal from trauma, especially in sibling groups, because each child’s layers are as individual as they are.
Older siblings return to being the protector because it’s a role they feel suits them best; sadly, they often know no other role.
Fostering siblings is not for the faint-hearted; it’s for the determined.
Fostering siblings is not an easy role. Many people who offer to take on siblings do it with the kindness of intentions; however, it’s not for the faint-hearted; it is for the determined. You will need selfless determination to ensure every child gets the individual support that is specific for them.
Also, you will really need a great sense of humour as siblings will push you to your limits and a strong network of friends and family who will support you. Siblings are a team, and as such, they are used to looking out for each other, and if one hurts or feels mistreated, it is likely that out of solidarity, others follow.
Foster carers with siblings need a lot of support, and this is where Not for Profit Charities and agencies excel because the support networks they have for all children is outstanding. They have dedicated support for every child with children’s social workers and specialist teams dedicated to every child individually and together. Many Not for Profit charities and agencies are smaller organisations and have a family feel to them. This family feel creates a sense of belonging to the charity for children and their foster carers as they feel a sense of belonging and are a valued part of the charity. Children’s activities are a combination of teams or one-on-one, and children have the opportunity to play; often, this is the first time many children will have had a chance to play.
Additional support ranges from helping children get to school, health appointments and extracurricular activities arranged to create a fun environment through play. It’s challenging with just one child; it’s even more challenging with sibling groups; however, the children have the best support, and subsequently, children flourish.
Therapeutic support for children includes the importance of play.
Therapeutic support for children includes understanding the importance of play. Play allows children and young people a chance to be themselves; sadly, many children learning to play with imaginative play may be the first time they have experienced play without recourse. Thus, over time and with consistent support, children understand that having fun through play is good and playing together can remove the layers of hurt that shared trauma brings.
The rewards of fostering siblings are immense, and sibling foster carers describe it as no other feeling in the world. The difference you will make in these children’s lives is enormous because staying together is crucial for siblings in care. We must remember that siblings in care have often faced trauma together; however, no matter what life threw at them, they had each other. As a result, the family is all they have. It is precious because it is their identity, and they don’t want to lose it; who would?
Could you foster siblings in care with a Not for Profit?
You would need at least one large spare bedroom and time to dedicate to each child you care for individually. However, you are never alone, as the support you receive from charities is outstanding. More importantly, you have a supportive team working with you 24/7 because every member of the Not for Profit charities dedicated themselves to ensuring they meet every child’s individual needs. Charities allow foster carers and sibling groups to stay together, play together, heal together, and thus, have a long life together with a family in which they belong.
If you would like to find out more about fostering siblings in care, please get in touch. Verve work with many Not for Profit Charities and agencies. Ultimately, our aim is in finding the best agency for you. An agency you feel represents your skills and experience in working with children, your ethos, and most importantly, an agency that shares your determination in giving every child the chance to be children; together as a family.
Read the full article here Thousands of siblings split up in care system https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-51095939