A new law in Maine this month will help to ensure children in foster care remain with their siblings — an important step which supporters say will create a better state system for all involved.
The law requires the Department of Health and Human Services to place siblings together when they enter foster care. State representative Richard Malaby (R-Hancock), who sponsored the bill and spoke with a Bangor, Maine, news station about the legislation, says it is in a child’s best interest to be placed with his or her siblings.
“If you can’t be with your parents because the court so deems, you should at the minimum be with your siblings,” Malaby says.
The bill, which was passed by the legislature earlier this year, was initially vetoed by the governor but ultimately received enough support to become law this August. It has received praise in the adoption community for protecting sibling bonds during a tumultuous time in a child’s life.
“The destruction of that sibling bond is so significant,” child protection attorney Newell Augur told Fox 22 WFVX Bangor. “You’re talking about children who have already been separated from their parents because their parents can’t take care of them, and now we’re doing the added damage to this child of separating them permanently from their siblings.”
The benefits of maintaining sibling relationships in adoption and foster care have been well-documented, but legislative action to protect those important bonds is scarce. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, only a minority of states provided a legal foundation for postadoption contact between siblings as of 2013.
One study of Maine’s child protection statutes, conducted by the University of Maine School of Law last year, pointed out that prior to the new law enacted this month, there were no previous protections in Maine to keep siblings together.
“There actually wasn’t an expressed provision in Maine law in respect to sibling placement,” law professor Dierdre Smith, who led the study, told Fox 22. “There was language about sibling contact and making sure that siblings continued to have contact with each other while they were in foster care, if they were not in the same placement, but nothing specifically about giving priority to keeping siblings together.”
Despite most states lacking a legal framework to keep siblings together, organizations like AdoptUSKids provide tools to find homes for sibling sets awaiting adoption in from foster care.
Since 2002, nearly 10,000 siblings photo-listed on adoptuskids.org have found families. For sibling groups in foster care that are available for adoption and don't have an identified placement, the AdoptUSKids website can be a useful tool in finding prospective families. AdoptUSKids is a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Administration for Children and Families.