The Other Side of Sibling Separation in Foster Care

Whenever possible, I think it is very important to keep sibling groups together in foster care. However, there are many sides to this particular coin. Coming from the foster care world, there are sides to this story that many are unaware of.

It is not always in the best interest of the children to keep siblings groups together. This was the case for my sibling group, and for the sibling group I would later adopt.

After my mother’s death from domestic violence, my oldest sister, Dottie, was separated from our sibling group the day after my mother’s funeral. Our biological family kept her because she was old enough to be an asset. However, us three younger ones – ages three, four and five – were too much of a handful. Although legal custody remained with our biological family, we were farmed out to anyone who wanted to parent three little kids.

My brother always moved with us to a new home, but he was never with us very long before he was sent away. My sister and I were always kept together. After we were taken into foster care at age 10 or 11, they continued to move us together from home to home. Again, my brother would move with us, but it never lasted very long.

My sister, on the other hand, did life with me until age 15. That’s when I woke up one day and she was no longer there. No one ever said a word to me about her leaving. I merely woke up and she was no longer a part of my life.

I loved my sister very much, but I was terrified of her. I was the youngest, was very petite, and was the focus of sexual abuse by my brother and the focus of physical and verbal abuse from my sister. Not because they didn’t love me, or because they didn’t like me, but they needed an avenue to release some of their anger and hostility. I, unfortunately, was sometimes the focus of this release.

I suffered from intense depression after my sister left, but I also felt safe for the very first time in my life. I knew she had to be separated from me, but the way in which it was handled increased the trauma I suffered dramatically.

When my foster sibling group came into my life we were faced with some of the same issues that I suffered during my foster care tenure. We fostered a sibling group of three, ages two years, three years and six years old.

The sister, being the oldest, took a lot of her anger out on her toddler, non-verbal brothers, one of whom is special needs (the other was still medically fragile at the time). The sibling abuse became so bad that I had to keep the babies gated away from the sister. If I left the area where she was left with one, or both brothers, I had to either remove her while I was gone, even for just a few minutes, or take the little ones with me. We eventually proved the necessity to separate the sister from the two boys.

We later adopted the two boys and another family adopted the sister. She is now in a home where she is the youngest and there is only one other teenage girl.

This was the best fit for her and our home was the best fit for the two little boys. We feel we kept the best interest of the children as priority in this case. We have play dates often, and the children actually have a much better relationship through this special arrangement than when they lived in the same home.

This is what nurse Kyla Boyse had to say in a November 2012 article written for the University of Michigan Health System:

Research shows that violence between siblings is quite common. In fact, it is probably even more common than child abuse (by parents) or spouse abuse. The most violent members of American families are the children.

Experts estimate that three children in 100 are dangerously violent toward a brother or sister. A 2005 study puts the number of assaults each year to children by a sibling at about 35 per 100 kids. The same study found the rate to be similar across income levels and racial and ethnic groups.

Likewise, many researchers have estimated sibling incest to be much more common than parent-child incest.

It seems that when abusive acts occur between siblings, family members often don’t see it as abuse.

Whenever possible it should remain a priority to keep sibling groups together. However, we must keep sibling abuse front and center while making this decision for children who come from a violent home environment.

Every child deserves to feel safe in their home environment, wherever that might be. It is not in the best interest of the children to presumptively think, ‘We must keep sibling groups together at all cost.’

We must take each case individually, each foster child individually, and decide, is this decision in the best interest of this particular child?

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About Helen Ramaglia 18 Articles
Helen Ramaglia is a foster alumni who became a foster/adoptive parent. She is the founder and Director of Fostering Superstars, a Congressional Award Winner for her work with foster children and is the author of “From Foster to Fabulous”. She is a popular speaker, trainer and advocate for foster children.