Sadly, where a child is removed from their home because their natural parents are struggling to keep them safe and nurtured, there are usually brothers or sisters in the family as well.
In many cases the attachment between siblings has been an important and positive feature for children in environments where the parent/child attachments are poor or damaging.
Research shows that children in foster care are happiest, and have the best outcomes, if they are in a placement with siblings with whom they have a positive attachment. Where this is not possible, studies by child welfare experts point to the importance of nurturing the bonds between siblings in other ways. This can be through regular, fun sibling contact arrangements that are as natural as possible, while remaining safe for all the children in the family. Sending birthday, Christmas or other celebration cards and small gifts also helps to nurture these bonds. For teenagers, social media connections with their siblings that are supervised by their carers can assist with sibling bonding and minimise grief felt from separation and loss. Carers have a very important role to play in keeping the children in their care connected with their brothers and sisters when this is a safe thing to do.
There is also evidence that the quality and importance of sibling relationships should be considered as early as possible when making decisions about placement or permanent care for children. This needs to be done from the perspective of each child in the family; while a baby may quickly adapt to separation from their older brother or sister, for the older child, the separation could cause significant grief, particularly in families where they have, for all intents and purposes, been the main carer of that baby, and love them deeply.
NSW placement policies take into account the value of sibling relationships, and CareSouth foster care policies reflect the evidence about the importance of keeping children either living, or in contact with, their brothers and sisters. We have wonderful carers who are putting the research into practice through their efforts to keep kids together.
By Karen Wilcox, Manager, Policy and Research, CareSouth