Sibling relationships are amongst our longest lasting relationships and contribute greatly to our sense of identity. Research has demonstrated that positive relationships between brothers and sisters can provide a source of resilience for children facing adversity and provide continuity at a time of change and uncertainty. They can also be a source of support into adulthood. Placing brothers and sisters together has been associated with increased wellbeing and stable, enduring placements.
Despite these benefits, sibling separation and estrangement are common outcomes when children become looked after and accommodated. Research has estimated that around 70% of children in care experience separation from brothers and sisters. Where this occurs children typically express a strong desire to stay in contact with brothers and sisters yet contact varies in quality and tends to become less frequent over time. This is a source of distress for children and a concern of professionals working on their behalf.
Children who wait longest for permanent placements are typically over the age of 4yrs, this includes sibling groups of two or more. When larger numbers of brothers and sisters are unable to return home to birth family it has often been the case that the youngest child or children’s needs were perceived as being best met by placing them with adoptive families, thus separating them from their older siblings.
Whilst this is slowly changing, we still see children who have been separated at the point of being accommodated remaining so as they move through the permanence process. Because historically, it has been difficult to place children over the age of six in adoptive placements, when permanence is being considered for older brothers and sisters, placements with permanent foster carers are sought. This is a direct link to the lack of families looking to adopt children over the ages of 4-5 yrs.
There are many positive aspects of adopting brothers and sisters; they are a source of support for one another, If together an older sibling may be able to speak up about both their likes/dislikes and needs. But, even where they cannot, the fact they are together brings some reassurance and comfort. Sibling relationships form an integral part of a child’s sense of identity, while potentially providing support, companionship and continuity. Siblings play formative roles in each other’s social and emotional development, for better or for worse. Sibling relationships help prepare children for the wider world of social contact in play, nursery, school with their peers.
If you are a prospective adopter then consider whether you could adopt a sibling group. Be open to being approved for more than one child to enable a younger sibling/s to join your family.
As an adoptive family then commit to maintaining sibling relationships between your child/ren and their brothers and sisters wherever they are. This can be in person, through visual media, cards, letters, pictures, photos etc. The ideal scenario is for children to experience ‘normal family life’. Can they meet up with siblings at the park, at the beach, at each other’s homes? Can they have sleepovers? Can this be arranged between families; be they Foster, Adoptive, Kinship? Start by discussing with your social worker.