Joanne Patterson - 7th October 2022
There was a time when I had three birth children under 5. Once they grew up and we started fostering, we thought we’d use this experience to foster siblings who might otherwise be separated. We felt strongly that coming into foster care is traumatic for children, being separated from your parents and everything familiar to you. Being split from your brothers and sisters would be another level of loss and trauma. So we decided to try and help siblings stay together.
In many cases, it is in the childrens’ interests to remain together but this can prove very tricky for Local Authorities during a time of a shortage of foster carers and highest ever numbers of children coming into care.
How long can you foster siblings for?
The plan for these children can vary. Sometimes, the plan for little ones is for adoption. In cases like this, our job is to care for and nurture the children, implement good, healthy boundaries, attend to any medical needs, and of course prepare them for adoption as well as supporting the adoption process, including introductions and visits. We’ve had some really positive experiences supporting children into adoption and many of the children we are still in touch with via photos and letters. It’s always hard to say goodbye to these little ones. You love them and care for them. But when you know they are going to a good home, with good people it’s worth it all.
Sometimes, the Local Authority plan is for siblings to return to their birth families once assessments are carried out or support is offered to the families. You often don’t really know how long these assessments or support efforts are going to take. Fostering is like string in that sense! This sort of fostering can be challenging. As a foster carer, you need to facilitate contact with birth families and keep a close eye on how the children react to this contact. This can vary amongst the siblings as they might all have very different schemas when it comes to the family dynamics. Children may also struggle to deal with the uncertainty that surrounds this scenario. You may not know the long term plan until the assessments are done and court decisions made. The length of the assessment will depend on many factors too. It’s difficult for children to live with that degree of uncertainty and they require a lot of therapeutically centred care from their foster carers.
It can be very difficult for foster carers to manage a reunification to family. As a foster carer, you are not always able to be a part of the decisions that are made but it is the nature of the task to work with the decisions and to ensure they are managed as well as possible for the good of the children. That said, all foster carers have a responsibility to advocate for the children in their care, which we have always tried to do to the best of our ability.
I’ve said that when we started out, we felt strongly that siblings needed to be kept together, and often they do. But we have learned that this is not always the best outcome for children who have suffered a traumatic early childhood. In these cases, it can be that siblings share a bond that has been formed from trauma. They will have learned dynamics and coping strategies. They may have confusing feelings towards each other and their behaviours can retraumatise each other. In this instance, an assessment may be carried out to assess whether it is in the children’s interests to be separated. This is never an easy process for the children but we have cared for siblings who have gone on to thrive once separated and now enjoy good relationships with their brothers and sisters which are promoted during regular contact. Fostering is never black and white!
Overall, I would summarise our experience of fostering siblings as a rewarding and positive experience. A little hectic at times and hard work of course but we’ve cared for so many lovely children. We’ve had lots of laughter and shed many tears. We’ve seen an increase in the complexity of the children who are coming into foster care. This could well be the impact of covid on families’ mental health, domestic violence and substance abuse. We’re also seeing more teenage siblings coming into foster care, whereas it always used to be much younger children. It’s an ever changing landscape but we like to think we’re a steady presence, and that is after all, exactly what these children need.
If you feel you could offer a loving home to siblings, please get in touch with Eastern Fostering Services at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website or Facebook page. You can also call us on 01206 299775.