By Trisha Sverns, LMSW (Director of Child and Family, West MI) -
Family connections are vital to all of us, and the same is true for children in foster care. The sibling bond is unique and can often be the longest lasting relationship in your lifetime. Research shows that siblings who are placed together in foster care experience more overall stability, spend less time in foster care and suffer less trauma.
According to Neighbor to Family Inc., an evidence-based program in Maryland which specializes in sibling foster care, there are “nearly half a million children in foster care in the United States and between 65-85% of them enter care with at least one sibling. It is estimated that only 25% of these children are placed with all their siblings.”
Imagine being a child in foster care. Removal from your parents, no matter what caused that removal, is already traumatizing to children. No longer living with your siblings on top of this can cause additional trauma. Anything we can do to lessen trauma to those we serve is a good thing.
So what can you do to help? Here are some ideas to help build and maintain sibling connections:
- Ensure sibling visits are happening AT LEAST once per month. Sibling visits must be separate from parenting time visits, and must be at least one hour per month, per DHHS policy. However, this is the bare minimum. More is always better!
- Offer additional visits whenever possible. Try to build relationships with the caregivers of your child’s siblings, and coordinate additional visits and time together. This could be before or after parenting time, when the kids are already going to be in the same location, or really whenever works best for your schedules. Visits can be at a park, at one of your homes, going out for a meal, or going to the mall. Some kids will do better if they are able to do some sort of activity, as activities can make it easier to deal with the big feelings that come up during these visits.
- Allow other forms of contact. Kids can stay connected through phone calls, video calls, emails, social media and cards. Ensure this is appropriate for the age of your child and their siblings.
- Ask for help. Ask the caseworker if there are any support people who can help facilitate sibling visits. There could be relatives or people in the children’s lives who are willing to help with transportation or host visits for the siblings.
- Try to facilitate outings or a camp experience. Summer Camp is a great opportunity for siblings to be together, relax and stay connected. Samaritas offers Summer Camp through generous donors at Stony Lake Camp in New Era, MI. This camp is coming up soon! Ask your caseworker if your child’s siblings can go. The camp will often make an exception for siblings as young as seven if they are attending with older siblings.
- Get creative! Some offices have memberships you can use, such as to the zoo, Children’s Museum, etc. Take advantage of these opportunities to host a really unique and fun visit for your child and their siblings!
If you have any questions about this at all, please talk to your caseworker or licensing worker.