Maintaining Sibling Relationships
Sibling bonds of all different kinds are important. If you have a sibling, you know how much those relationships can influence you for the rest of your life.
For children adopted through foster care, those sibling bonds can be even more meaningful — they represent an important biological connection that has been, for the most part, lost. Here’s what you should know about your child’s siblings:
Why Should I Consider Adopting a Sibling Group?
Siblings who are in foster care together are often placed as a group. The relationship that a child has with his or her siblings may be the only remaining connection to their original family unit and their biological history. Children have already been separated from everything and everyone that was familiar to them — denying children a consistent and continued relationship with their sibling can be very traumatizing and stressful for those children.
When placed together, siblings provide comfort and familiarity for one another in an unfamiliar setting. Sibling groups who are adopted together have been noted to adjust more quickly to their new home — turning to each other for care, support and comfort in a transitional time.
Siblings who are adopted separately often spend the rest of their lives wondering and worrying if the other children are safe, happy and loved. By placing siblings together, or by maintaining sibling connections when they’ve already been separated by circumstance, children can grow up knowing each other and see firsthand how the others are doing.
Why Is It Important to Maintain a Connection to My Child’s Siblings?
Whenever possible, adoptive parents are encouraged to try to stay in touch with their child’s biological siblings and half-siblings, so they can have the opportunity for a continued relationship. Foster care agencies try to keep siblings together whenever possible, but there are situations where siblings are separated. For example:
- One sibling is in foster care while another remains with the biological parents or with a family member
- A sibling may have “aged out” of the foster care system
- Siblings may have been adopted by a different family
Even if siblings have been separated or if they’ve never had much of a relationship in the past, it's often beneficial to make the effort to maintain those biological connections. Adopted children have a natural curiosity about their biological roots, and for many children, their relationship with their siblings was the strongest bond they had within their original family. Their siblings may be all they have left of that original family unit, and their only connection to their biological family and history.
Some children will have complex feelings about their birth parents, but have shared more positive experiences with their siblings. Maintaining that connection will allow them to continue to have access to that sibling relationship — ideally for life.
Keeping children connected to their biological siblings can be established through the exchange of letters, video chats, emails, texts, connecting on social media and regular visits. Your child’s caseworker should have some information about their siblings, so you can facilitate contact with the siblings’ caretakers.
How Do I Handle Sibling Issues in Foster Care and Adoption?
Even the closest siblings will experience difficulties in their relationship from time to time. However, foster care adoptions bring additional challenges for sibling relationships.
Sibling relationships are always nuanced and complicated, but foster adoptions can introduce new situations that parents hadn’t previously thought of. Every situation is unique, but in some families:
- A non-biological child and a parents’ biological children may be raised together as siblings, and may encounter issues.
- Siblings who are adopted together may be slow to warm up to their parents’ biological children.
- An adopted child’s biological siblings (raised elsewhere) may be struggling or going through a difficult patch.
- Siblings may become scattered in different types of placements and grow apart.
It’s important that you support your child’s need for sibling connections, and encourage them to develop loving bonds with their biological and non-biological siblings.
Time, consistency, love and patience are generally prescribed for common sibling issues. However, if the issues progress to a more concerning degree, working with caseworkers and adoption-competent family counselors should be the next step. Remember to address sibling issues quickly before tensions rise and the relationships may be damaged.
My Adopted Child's Sibling is in Foster Care Now. What Do I Say?
Maybe your child’s biological parents placed them for adoption as an infant through a private agency, and their other child has now been removed and placed into foster care. Or, your child may have been placed into foster care before their younger sibling was born, and now those younger siblings have been placed in foster care as well. Whatever your child’s situation, it’s undoubtedly become emotionally complex.
It can be hard for children to learn that their sibling (even if they haven’t had much of a relationship) has entered or re-entered foster care. Children who have been adopted and are well-cared for may worry that their sibling won’t receive the same love and security.
Here are a few tips for handling this situation:
- Reach out to your child’s caseworker and/or to the sibling’s caretaker to try to learn as much as you can about their current placement
- Try to establish contact with your child’s sibling/their caretaker so they can communicate or visit, if possible and appropriate
- Never withhold information about your child’s siblings from them, and let them know if something major has happened in their sibling’s life
- Remember to always speak about your child’s biological family members with respect
- Answer your child’s questions about his or her siblings honestly, but in an age-appropriate manner
- Reassure your child
- Walk them through what will happen for their sibling
- Let your child know that you will keep them updated
Your child may wonder why your family can’t adopt his or her sibling. Maybe you’re considering this path, or maybe you’re unable to bring another child into your family at this point. Either way, be ready to explain this to your child.
Your child will likely worry for their sibling, whether they tell you that directly or not. Keeping your child updated about their siblings' lives and trying to support communication and a continued relationship between the siblings will help your child maintain that important bond.