Vol. 8, No. 2 May 2004
Connections When Siblings Are Separated
be comforters, caretakers, role models, faithful allies, and best friends.
Most brothers and sisters share years of experiences that form a bond,
a common foundation they do not have with anyone else. If their birth
parents were unable to provide the necessary care, sibling attachments
can be even closer.
and sisters separated from each other through foster care and adoption
experience trauma, anger, and an extreme sense of loss. Research suggests
that separating siblings may make it difficult for them to begin healing,
make attachments, and develop a healthy self-image. Indeed, because
of the affection they share, separated siblings often feel they have
lost a part of themselves.
reasons, North Carolina policy explicitly states that siblings must
be placed together whenever possible, unless such a placement would
be contrary to a childs developmental, treatment, or safety needs.
Policy also states that if siblings are separated, frequent and regular
ongoing contact must be arranged and facilitated (NCDSS, 2004).
some ways social workers and foster, relative, and adoptive parents
can help separated siblings stay connected:
- Separation anxiety will
be strongest immediately before or after placement. Be sensitive to
the loss the children are feeling. Many will experience separation
from siblings in the same way they experience separation from their
parents. Respond accordingly.
- Understand that strong,
healthy attachments between brothers and sisters promotes other vital
life attachmentsincluding attachment to foster and adoptive
- Recognize that supporting
sibling connections requires resources: transportation, phone access,
- Because it can be so
beneficial, even if children seem passive or uninterested, parents
and professionals should encourage contact between siblings unless
prohibited by a therapist.
- Learn about your childrens
history with their siblings. Ask them how they feel about their brothers
- Maintain frequent (at
least monthly) contact through visits, phone calls, e-mail, and letters.
- Meet in a place that
is appropriate to childrens needs. For example, siblings often
feel a surge of energy and emotion when they are reunited. Settings
that require them to be calm and quiet may not work.
- Finding time to bring
siblings together is hard for busy parents. Consider finding someone
outside the family who would be willing to make this his or her only
- Have a group portrait
made. Send prints to each sibling.
- Plan get-togethers or
birthday parties for siblings. Send cards and help your kids to celebrate
their siblings birthdays.
- Promote contact with
siblings who are not biologically related, but who have
formed attachments after living together in foster care. Though not
legally recognized, this bond can affect childrens long-term
and Further Reading
Barbell, K. (1995). Is our family focus wide enough to include siblings?
J. (2002). Tips for professionals serving siblings. Family Voices,
Summer 2002. <www.mnasap.org>.
Resource Center on Foster Care and Permanency Planning. (2004). <www.hunter.cuny.edu/socwork/nrcfcpp/policy-issues/siblings.html>
of Social Services. (2004). Chapter IV: 1201 Child Placement Services.
In N.C. Children's Services Policy Manual. Raleigh, NC: Author. <info.dhhs.state.nc.us/olm/manuals/dss/csm-10/man/CSs1201c5-05.htm>
separate children? Childrens Services Practice Notes,
2(4), 78. <www.practicenotes.org/vol2_no4/why_separate_siblings.htm>.
2004 Jordan Institute for Families