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September 2007Vol. 8, No. 8Keeping Siblings Together

Siblings who experience separation from their parents and from each other are at risk of losing their sense of kinship and continuity. Placing children with siblings when they enter foster care may help them maintain family connections and reduce the trauma caused by leaving their home. But keeping siblings connected can present challenges to the child welfare system. Both the benefits and the challenges of sibling connection are the topic of a recent white paper published by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services.

Keeping Siblings Connected: A White Paper on Siblings in Foster Care and Adoptive Placements in New York State describes some of the challenges facing child welfare practitioners looking for permanent homes for siblings. These include limited physical space in adoptive homes, limited resources, siblings entering care at differing times, and lack of available foster and adoptive homes willing or able to accept siblings. These challenges are further exacerbated by the difficulty of placing siblings who are far apart in age.

To address some of these challenges, the white paper sets out a list of practice recommendations for successful sibling placement. These include:

  • Recognize the right of siblings to be placed together.
  • Increase training for caseworkers and supervisors on sibling placements.
  • Recruit foster homes for sibling groups.
  • Train foster/adoptive families on sibling issues.
  • Enhance assessment procedures.
  • Include youth in the decision to place siblings together.
  • Consider older siblings as placement options.
  • Monitor placement decisions for opportunities to place siblings together.

In cases where siblings are placed separately, the white paper includes a list of useful recommendations for successful sibling visits. These include:

  • Recognize and reinforce throughout the agency the requirements for sibling visits.
  • Increase training for caseworkers and supervisors on sibling contact.
  • Include youth in planning and decisions about visits with siblings.
  • Broaden the definition of visits beyond the minimum contact requirements.
  • Never use visits as a method of discipline.
  • Enhance the ability to visit older siblings.
  • Coordinate the provision of services to the family.
  • Facilitate visits with half-siblings, step-siblings, and adopted siblings.
  • Facilitate visits with siblings who are not in placement.
  • Enhance training of foster and adoptive parents about the importance of sibling contact.

The paper also addresses the issues of sibling placement and visitation as part of adoption policy. (PDF - 247 KB)