Child Welfare Ideas from the Experts #2: Getting Serious About Siblings

Brittney Barros, 20, an undergraduate student at Eastern Michigan University.

The Chronicle of Social Change is highlighting each of the policy recommendations made this summer by the participants of the Foster Youth Internship Program (FYI), a group of 10 former foster youths who have completed congressional internships.

The program is overseen each summer by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. Each of the FYI participants crafted a policy recommendation during their time in Washington, D.C. Today we highlight the recommendation of Brittney Barros, 20, an undergraduate student at Eastern Michigan University.

The Proposal

Barros identifies three ways she believes Congress can better ensure that siblings removed into foster care can stay together when that is their wish. First, she calls for a National Sibling Bill of Rights that would provide “specific guidance on keeping siblings together.”

Barros also proposes competitive grants that would push states to develop specialized foster care programs aimed at handling large sibling groups, and urges the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to finalize already written data requirements on sibling placement.

The Argument

Despite federal legislation requiring efforts to place siblings together, many states still struggle to do so. Barros cites a Government Accountability Office report finding that all but eight states reported placement of large sibling groups as a “major challenge.”

In Their Own Words

“In and out of foster care, the most traumatizing aspect of the child welfare system was being separated from my siblings. Because of the pain of separation, my brother attempted suicide and inflicted self-harm. My sister often has crying spells about my brother’s current situation. I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

Tools for Transformation, the most recent set of policy proposals from the Foster Youth Internship Program

The Chronicle’s Take

Our sense is that once the new data collection rules Barros mentions are cleared by the Trump administration, sibling placement information will be included. This was not one of the data points noted as overly burdensome of state agencies when HHS asked for public input this year.

The passage of a national sibling “bill of rights” is unlikely; perhaps the requirement of a state version though? There is precedent for that in the 2014 law authored by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), which basically required states to establish a point person or office on normalcy for foster youth.

Step one would be to gauge whether the 10 states that already have such a document are notably better on this issue than other states. Barros names them in her proposal: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Oregon, Nevada, Minnesota and North Carolina.

Barros is on the money with the idea of a competitive grant for spreading models that have actually shown some promise in keeping families together. She suggests Florida’s Neighbor to Family (NTF) Program as one option for replication. Based on the stats she notes – 98.6 percent of NTF youth are placed with at least one sibling, 68 percent with all siblings – it’s a good a place as any to start.

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