We Are Family—Preserving Sibling Bonds

Kelle2by Kelle Gilmore, CASA Staff Attorney/Guardian ad Litem

Sibling relationships develop early in childhood. In fact, professionals now believe that the sibling bond is the longest-lasting relationship that most individuals form–longer than that of the relationship between parent and child, or between spouses. As professionals advocating for children, we should be concerned about how our decisions affect these relationships. Children in dysfunctional or abusive homes can forge especially intense bonds with each other as a support network. Often, children who come into care have been acting as the parent for their siblings: cooking meals, cleaning, bathing them, and helping them get dressed each day. At other times, siblings blame each other for their removal from the home. Whether the relationship is healthy or harmful, we know that the relationship between siblings affects future relationships they will form in life. Finding a foster home or permanent placement for a sibling group can be difficult. The more children involved, the more difficult it is to find a caregiver with enough room and resources to take them all. Sometimes siblings are separated when a child is placed with a different biological parent, or is in a residential facility or a specialized foster home. Regardless of the reason for the separation, professionals and caretakers should make a sincere effort to nurture and foster these lifelong relationships. When siblings cannot be placed together, every effort should be made to allow them frequent and meaningful contact. Sometimes this contact is more important than contact with a parent. The trauma for some children from being separated from their sibling becomes a secondary trauma to the removal from the home. This trauma does not go away overnight. It can have a lasting effect on the child’s future relationships. As child welfare advocates and Guardians Ad Litem, we have a duty to do all we can to push agencies and workers to find homes that are willing to take entire sibling groups. At the very least they should find homes that have foster parents or placement providers who know the importance of sibling relationships and are willing to work to maintain them. We should request Court Orders that require sibling contact and make sure those Orders are followed. We should also encourage foster parents, relatives, parents, and others to make this contact a priority. Educating the adults and professionals on our caseload is the first step in making sure we are doing all we can to protect these vital bonds.

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