The Importance of the Sibling Bond
Sibling bonds are some of the strongest connections we can make in our lives, emotional attachments that happen early and are rooted deeply in our development. Siblings help us to learn crucial skills to navigate relationships, find a sense of identity, and understand how to create attachment to others. When siblings are separated from each other, especially when they are young, the complications and complexities that they endure create chaos, uncertainty and anxiety.
Unfortunately, Oregon is experiencing a foster care crisis and this leads to a stretched system that has a hard time keeping up with all the children moving through foster care. Strained state caseworkers are not able to find time, resources or homes in order to keep siblings together and these vulnerable children are often separated from their brothers and sisters and left wondering if they might ever see each other again.
Data is sparse on the rate at which siblings are separated in foster care, but what we do know is unsettling. The child welfare advocacy organization, Adopt Us Kids, recently published that roughly 73% of children in foster care have at least one sibling that is also in the system. Of these children, more than 65% will be separated at some point. This means almost two out of every three groups of siblings entering foster care will be separated.
At Boys & Girls Aid, our focus is to keep siblings together every chance we get. The damage caused by separating kids can be lifelong and it is something we are working every day to prevent. We believe no child should endure the pain of being separated, and that all children should grow up in their forever home, together, with their siblings.
Mariah, Sage and Gavin are three wonderful siblings who entered foster care very early in their young lives due to the abuse and neglect they experienced in their home. Sadly, because our state welfare system is overwhelmed and understaffed, these sisters and brother were separated when they entered the foster care system. In total, they would spend a combined 6,000 nights in foster care, never knowing if or when they might be separated, adding to their already historic trauma.
These three children came to the Boys & Girls Aid in search of a forever family, together. They had spent their young lives worrying about the next time they’d have to pack their bags and move and the next time they might see each other. Since we understand the importance of the sibling bond, we actively sought out a family that had the skills to adopt these three siblings and end their separation. Then we met Erin and Sarah who wanted more than anything to start a family and share their lives with children in need. They hoped to undo any complications arising from early trauma and provide a lifetime of love to their children.
At Boys & Girls Aid we provide training to help adoptive parents navigate the waters of their new family, especially understanding the impact of the sibling bond. We know that siblings help us in our self-identity and how we relate to the world. Adoptive parents are educated on the importance of keeping siblings together so when the time comes, they understand what these children have been through and how best to support them as parents. When sibling bonds are severed, we recognize that complexities in development can arise. We strive to help bridge understanding of these complexities so that our adoptive parents have a foundation to build on with their new family.
Siblings provide a sense of stability, especially when children are placed in foster care. These children struggle to hold on to something that feels permanent in a world of chaos and uncertainty. To this day, “forever?” is a question Mariah, Sage and Gavin still ask Erin and Sarah when given anything - “Is this mine, forever? Do I get to keep this, forever?” The stability to know something is yours forever is life changing, and when you’re with your siblings this feeling is nearly automatic. Having the stability of that lifelong connection shapes who you become.
Mariah, Sage and Gavin are growing and healing together. As Boys & Girls Aid works to prevent children from being separated, we celebrate the success of siblings being reunited. We know that maintaining these relationships will have a positive impact that lasts a lifetime.
At Boys & Girls Aid, we will not give up on children living in foster care. We can’t sit idly by as families are broken up and permanently damaged. We choose to make a difference and we want these children to experience the lasting bond of family - a bond children develop with their parents and a bond they develop with their siblings. Having the support, guidance and love of these connections will shift the trajectory for these children forever.