Vol. 14, No. 1 • November 2009

Maintaining Connections with Siblings

by Lauren Zingraff, SaySo Program Coordinator

There is no question how important it is for foster children to be able to maintain their sibling relationships. For many children in substitute care, one of the most traumatic experiences occurs when they are separated from their brothers and sisters.

The 2009-2010 SaySo Board of Directors has two biological sisters as representatives. They are only one year apart in age and their birthdays are only two days apart. The oldest sister is 16 years old and currently resides by her choice in a group home. The younger sister, Shanita, is 15 years old and was recently adopted. We thought it would be informative to see how two siblings on two different “permanency” paths maintain their connections. For these two sisters, being involved in SaySo together is one way to remain connected to each other. Their story also shows how imperative it is to listen and take into account young people’s feelings about permanency.

While these two sisters may not share a home anymore, they continue to share a loving and healthy bond as siblings. Below is Shanita’s very personal perspective in her own words on the importance of maintaining sibling connections.

Torn and Ripped Apart, Sewn and Glued Together
by Shanita, age 15

My story starts when me, my two sisters, and my brother were taken away from our uncle’s home. Our uncle’s abusive home. We lived in constant fear of being beaten for anything that upset him. We never knew if there was going to be food in the fridge when we came home from school. Would he be there to open the door, or will we have to wait in the cold, again, for a few hours? In his house “Stupid A**,” “Idiot,” and “Ugly Thing” were often our nicknames.

Split Up
So we were glad when we left our uncle’s home, if somewhat frightened. But I never thought that I would be separated from my siblings. We were split up into two groups. My little sister and little brother were dropped off first. I didn’t trust who they were staying with. . . . As we drove away, it hit me: I would never watch Power Rangers with my brother or play dolls with my sister again.

What Happened Next
Me and my big sister were dropped off not too far from my other siblings. We had visits, but they were more like meetings because our uncle had to be there.

Me and my big sister argued a lot. We weren’t as close as I was to my other siblings. We were polar opposites. But during the four years we lived together, I think I began to love her more.

My little sister and brother moved a lot, unlike me and my older sister. They both went back to our uncle. That’s when me and my sister worried the most. Most of the time when we had visits he would refuse to bring them.

My little sister didn’t stay there. She ended up in a group home for her behavior. It was always hard to contact her and when I did see her she would hug me until it hurt.

My brother came to live with me and my big sister because our uncle had beaten him in a drunken rage. I wanted to kill my uncle when I saw my brother’s face. He stayed with us for a while. Yes, we argued, but that’s what siblings do.

Adoption: I Say Yes, My Sister Says No
By this time my foster parents had brought up the idea of adoption. I said yes to adoption, my sister said no. She was still waiting for our mom to get straight and come get us like she promised, but it didn’t seem [to me] like she was coming along.

We all have different views on adoption. . . . I did what I thought was best for me.

Our Relationships Now
Our brother left after about a year. I call him every blue moon to see how he is doing.

My little sister got out of the group home and into a foster home not too far away from us. Our visits are better now that our uncle is completely out of the picture. One time we had an overnight visit, my sisters and I. My big sister doesn’t stay with me anymore, and now lives in a group home. She visits me almost every other weekend.

I was angry at everyone when [my big sister] left. Now I’ve forgiven everyone, but I will never forget that day when my heart crumpled in front of me.

The bonds between me and my siblings have been torn and ripped apart by cruel and unknowing hands, but slowly they were sewn and glued back together stronger than ever because of our experiences. Even though we are spread apart we are closer than ever. . . . I love them all dearly.




Copyright 2009 Jordan Institute for Families