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The importance of keeping siblings together in foster care

When a young person is exposed to trauma early in life, it can have a serious impact on their development.

It is imperative that any impacts of trauma are identified as soon as the child enters into care, so their needs are met and they are supported on their path to healing. When sibling groups enter the care system together it adds an extra layer of complexity, as it is critical to ensure that their attachment to each other is not damaged or broken.

MacKillop Family Services runs foster care programs in western Sydney that provide holistic, therapeutic and trauma-informed care to children and young people. Currently we support 53 children and young people in various foster care placements, including 18 groups of siblings.

Children who experience trauma learn to operate in a survival mode - because that’s the way they have developed in order to survive day-to-day. Part of this survival mode involves siblings becoming co-dependent, and relying on each other’s support.

But due to the lack of foster carers available to care for sibling groups, sadly sometimes separating siblings is unavoidable.

Could you become a foster carer for siblings? If so, fill in our online enquiry form to find out more.

Twelve-year-old Tom* is currently in foster care and has a younger brother and sister. All three of them are in separate placements. Tom regularly talks about the difficulty of being separated from his younger brother and sister and how he finds it hard to cope in his life now that he doesn’t live with them anymore.

The importance of keeping siblings together cannot be overstated. Children who have been conceived, born into and raised in a traumatic environment show significant physio-biological differences in their development, compared to children who have grown up in a stable environment.

Keeping siblings together is critical for maintaining their close bond and attachment, and prevents further complex trauma as a result of them being separated. We are working hard to ensure that Tom gets to see his siblings as regularly as possible even though they don’t live together.

In contrast, MacKillop foster carer Sallie* looks after three siblings, who were removed from their birth parents due to severe neglect. They have now been in her care for eight months. She says they rely on each other constantly and are extremely well connected.

The connection between siblings in any social situation is important, but even more so in child protection cases. This bond can occur even when a sibling hasn’t been born yet.

Sallie also told us how anxious the children in her care became on hearing the news that they were going to have a new baby brother. “All three children where very worried. Their world began to revolve around the baby being safe. This replicated in their behaviour and began to affect even day-to-day routines.”

Since then, the baby has been born and after lobbying from his three brave older siblings (and an extremely open heart from carer Sallie) he has been placed into foster care with them. The children were so happy to be able to stay together and Sallie has told us that they are all settled in nicely.

If you can support children to maintain critical sibling relationships in foster care, please fill in our online enquiry form or call us on 1300 791 677.

*Names have been changed and model images used to protect privacy.