Fighting for foster youth to live with their siblings has never been more important. The Continuum of Care Reform and Resource Family Approval laws passed in 2017 have increased the requirements for relatives to clear as placement options at the very beginning of the case, which has resulted in delay for those placements being quickly accessible options for children.
Simultaneously, new laws have added pressure on social workers to have children moved out of temporary shelter care facilities and into foster care as quickly as possible. In San Diego, social workers are expected to move children out of Polinsky (our temporary shelter for foster youth) and into a home within a maximum of 10 days. Unfortunately, without a relative to turn to, the social worker is pressed to find a foster home with enough beds to care for a sibling set. Options are limited, and as a result, siblings are often broken into smaller groups or placed alone so that a foster home can be identified quicker. The consequence? A child may go weeks without seeing his brother or sister because they are in different homes and may not attend school together. Although sibling visits are coordinated, it goes without saying that the strength of the relationship is jeopardized as time passes.
Reasons why siblings may be separated:
New relative assessment policies make it difficult to quickly assess all available relatives, limiting options at the beginning of the case;
A relative who is available to take one child can’t take the other due to childcare needs, space in the home, or can’t drive older children to their school of origin;
A relative who wants one child may not be related to the siblings (different fathers);
The available foster home doesn’t have the number of open beds needed for the entire sibling group;
Licensing allows only a certain number of children in a home without special exceptions being made;
Social worker feels pressure to move the children out of temporary care as quickly as possible;
The siblings have different needs and separating them may be best.
Attorneys at Children's Legal Services of San Diego (CLSSD) take safeguarding the sibling relationship seriously. Not only does the law require a special focus on siblings, but our clients express how much they want to live with their brothers and/or sisters! Foster youth describe separation from their brothers/sisters as an extra punishment and a source of loss during an already difficult time in their lives. Research summarized by the Child Information Gateway1 shows the importance of sibling relationships: siblings enhance a child’s sense of safety and well-being and provide natural, mutual support. Maintaining the sibling bond provides a shared history, continuity of identity and a sense of belonging. Siblings are often the only source of continuity and important attachments for foster youth given the frequency of loss in their lives. When foster youth are separated from siblings, they are at a greater risk of:
· Negative adjustment outcomes
· Experiencing grief and anxiety
· Running away
· Increased behavioral problems
· Poor mental health and socialization
· Loneliness and lower self-worth
· Decreased social skills, particularly in sharing and managing conflict
Fighting for siblings to stay together is a challenge given the lack of placement options, new regulations, and the competing pressures put on social workers. However, foster youth who have grown up with a sister or a brother should have the safety net of their sibling relationships even when everything else is up in the air. CLS is committed to preserving the special relationships formed between sisters and brothers, and actively works to protect this unique bond.
1 Child Welfare Information Gateway, Sibling Issues in Foster Care and Adoption: Bulletins for Professionals (2006), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Section 2: The Importance of Siblings. https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/siblingissues.pdf [as of February 2018].