Keeping Families Together in Foster Care

Keeping Families Together in Foster Care

Families thinking of adoption or foster care may be scrolling through the photos of children in need of homes. They also would likely to come across a group of kids — siblings — who might not only want to be placed with a family, but hope their brothers and sisters can come, too.

Siblings groups are not uncommon, but it seems to be a continuing trend. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Children’s Bureau, which is an office of the Administration for Children & Families, has a project called AdoptUSKids. The project raises awareness and provides resources for families looking to adopt or foster, but also has national listings of children available.

According to the site, “More than 20 percent of children listed on AdoptUSKids have at least one sibling who is also in need of a home. That’s 1,267 children as of June 2016.”

Liz Myers, a licensing specialist at The Village Network, in Newark, says they have quite a few referrals for sibling groups.

“Just in the last week, I saw one for five siblings,” she says. “I think this has always been a trend and not much has changed in recent years. Lately, I also see a few that have been between the ages of 2 and 4. At times, I have seen teens.”

Studies have indicated that placing these groups together has benefits for the children and the overall family unit.

“Placing siblings in the same foster home is associated with a significantly higher rate of family reunification,” according the 2013 report “Child Welfare Information Gateway, Sibling issues in foster care and adoption,” from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau. “Some studies show children placed with their siblings also experience more stability and fewer disruptions in care than those who were separated, while others have found that separated siblings in foster care or adoption are at higher risk for negative adjustment outcomes, including running away.”

Sheila Reynolds, director of treatment foster care at Bellefaire JCB, in Shaker Heights adds, “What has changed over the years has been clearer protocol and policy regarding sibling groups (Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoption Act of 2008, Public Law 110-351). The basic tenet of this act is that public agencies must make reasonable efforts to place siblings removed from their home in the same foster care, adoption, or guardianship placement. The act also encourages frequent visitation and contact if siblings are unable to be placed together and that the determination be based on safety or well-being considerations.”

Brent Hite, homefinding recruiter at Summit County Children Services, says the reward of keeping siblings together helps to alleviate some of their loss and separation issues and maintains the longest relationship they will have in life.

“Summit County Children Services philosophy is to place siblings together,” he says. “This message has been communicated with our foster parents. Siblings share a bond and experience and the hope is by placing them together, you minimize the trauma children face. The goal of the SCCS is to keep siblings together as a family unit whenever possible.”

However, there are reasons siblings sometimes aren’t placed together. The 2013 report states reasons such as different times of placement into foster care, behavioral problems, sibling abuse, or differing needs of the children.

If families are looking to adopt or foster a sibling group, the overall process is the same as it is for an individual child, but there is a potential for unique situations and challenges.

“It can definitely be a challenge balancing the needs of multiple traumatized children while recognizing their individuality and maintaining the placement if one sibling becomes the ‘problem child,’” Hite says. “Oftentimes, it is easier to ask for the challenging child to be removed rather than focusing on the trauma and how it may be impacting his or her behavior.”

Many would agree, though, that siblings who are placed in foster care benefit more together than apart.

“The benefits of adopting a sibling group is clearly to the benefit of the children, and their shared family history is important to maintain,” Reynolds says. “Siblings also can help each other piece together their shared history, help each other through the transition of placement, making new relationships, and becoming part of a new family system. While there are challenges with adopting siblings, there are challenges to integrating anyone into a new family system. These siblings are often not infants and have their own memories, traditions and sometime cultural/racial identities. It can be a comfort to them to have someone there who is familiar with their experience and can help support them in their new family.”

About the author

Angela Gartner has been the editor at Northeast Ohio Parent Magazine since 2014. She has won local and national awards for her features, columns and photography over the years. Previously, her work appeared in publications including The News-Herald, Sun Newspapers and The Chicago Tribune. She grew up in Northeast Ohio and is a mom of two boys. The whole family is busy every weekend with sports and finding new happenings around the region. She is also a board member and past president at the Cleveland Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. She loves reading, writing poetry and taking the family's Scottish Terrier on walks.

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