Sibling relationships are often some of the most important and longest lasting of our lives. However, recent figures show that a third of British children in foster care have been separated from their brothers and sisters. Charities warn that separating siblings can have a damaging effect on their mental health, at a time when they are already dealing with the trauma of being separated from their parents.
The data was obtained by Action for Children and showed that out of the 11,082 sibling children placed in care between April 2013 and March 2014, over 3,500 were separated. That’s 32%! Sir Tony Hawkhead, the chief executive of Action for Children, argued: “For many children, being taken into care can be a confusing and upsetting time; add the distress of being split up from your brother or sister into the mix and the impact will last a lifetime”.
The negative effects are clear, as one teenager, Anna, who was split from her brothers, explains: “Children in such a situation can face a crisis of identity. I feel like my life was wasted because I didn’t know my family. I didn’t know who I was.”
The Department for Education responded to the findings, saying: “”We agree that siblings should be placed together and are trying to recruit more foster carers who can meet the needs of children harder to place, such as brothers and sisters. We have also quickened up the approval process and provided money to trial innovative approaches to foster carer recruitment.”
So why are so many young people in care separated from brothers and sisters? Of course, there are some extreme cases when brothers and sisters cannot be placed together because it is in their best interests, for example of one sibling is abusing another.
But another, and probably the biggest, factor is the shortage of foster carers. Zoe O’Donohoe, Marketing & Development Manager states “The demand for foster carers to care for sibling groups is high and is on the up. It is a real challenge for fostering services, like Lorimer Fostering, to reach potential carers who not only have the time, patience and dedication to take on this task but the space within their home in order to fulfil the requirements of fostering siblings”.
One way to tackle this shortage is to reach potential carers who wrongly, do not know they can foster; such as single people, people in same-sex relationships and people over 55. Potential carers also need to know that the barriers to becoming a foster parent are also not as high as they might think. The training is much quicker than it used to be and carers are also given a much more realistic level of financial compensation than before.
A sibling relationship is life’s longest lasting relationship, so for foster children, it is important to reach out to more foster carers who are willing to foster sibling groups, to enable young people to maintain a strong bond, support each other through foster care and talk about their experiences. Most siblings benefit hugely by staying together; more must be done to ensure they do!
If you are interested and would like to know more about fostering siblings then please either submit your details above or call (freephone) on 0800 038 7799 for an informal chat.