Sibling Visitation Law Introduced

Reunited and it Feels Sort of Good
Photo by: MissMessie

A state bill backed by a youth-led advocacy group to strengthen requirements on sibling visitation rights for foster youth will be introduced in California.

Senate Bill 1099 would toughen the reporting requirements related to the suspension of sibling visitation rights; create more consistent visitation of reasons behind suspension and stricter guidelines to maintain suspension; and provide a pathway to facilitate sibling visitation when one sibling is in the foster care system, and another isn’t.

“This bill looks to increase accountability and really define the rules on suspending visitation rights,” said Kyle Sporleder, statewide legislative coordinator at the California Youth Connection, “which was a big problem addressed by a number of people we talked to.”

Sporleder said the bill only patches a bigger problem in California’s foster care system: the separation of siblings in the first place.

“Technically, [sibling placement] is already something that is a federal law and state law,” he said. “Siblings are supposed to be placed together already.”

According to a report conducted by the Legislative Analyst’s Office in August 2013, 54 percent of children in California foster care are placed with all of their siblings and 74 percent are placed with at least one.

This is after the federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008, which instructs states to keep siblings placed together in foster care, kinship guardianship, or adoptive placement.

The law stops short of mandating this, requiring only that states make a “reasonable effort.”

Korah Loyd, former foster youth and a current advisory board co-chair for CYC, has three siblings who are currently in the foster care system or freshly out of it. Her younger brother was adopted, one of her younger sisters is currently living in transitional housing, and her other sister is currently residing in a group home.

Loyd said she never had a chance to live with her siblings after being placed into foster care, and hasn’t seen them in nearly three years.

“I really do hope that this bill will sooner or later expand into placement,” Loyd said. “Unless there’s some abuse going on between siblings, or an outward statement against it, then it should be completely mandatory to put siblings together, which would mean we wouldn’t have to even worry about visitation.”

Victor Valle is a journalism intern with Fostering Media Connections.

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5 Comments

  1. I was a long time friend of a woman who has adopted 7 kids out of foster care. The eldest child ran away from her at age 14 leaving her with 6 children. 5 of the children are related by blood and include 2 sets of twins. One of the twin girls, age 11 acused the woman of abuse and was removed from the home and is now living with me. The dependency hearing is coming to a close as the court moves forward to remove her parental rights. The charges alleged by the 11 year old were proven. The problem now is that the mother is refusing the 11 year old visitation with the other siblings including her twin sister. This situation is causing emotional stress on all the siblings and the child that I have is receiving weekly therapy. The mother blames everyone for her lack of parental skills and will not communicate with anyone. Does the 11 year old in my custody have any visitation rights? I am very interested in this new bill that is being introduced as I would like to pursue this matter in court for the child.

  2. In Tn siblings are placed together unless there is a safety issue and then we try to work through that issue. However TN is a closed adoption state so if for some reason siblings were separated it would be totally up to the adoptive parents to continue visitation of some type. There are no easy answers to this complex problem of child abuse and neglect and the impact systems have on the children and families.

  3. Are You Still My Family?

    California’s efforts are admirable, however, federal law already mandates that while children are in foster care there must be reasonable efforts to promote sibling visitation if they are separated. Reasonable efforts is tied into federal funding.

    We are looking at post-adoption and encourage advocates and policy makers to do the same. There is a disconnect between the way that the child welfare system treats foster children and the way it treats children adopted out of foster care. In the past two decades, there has been increased recognition that sibling relationships are crucial, and that separation of sibling groups due to foster care placement can be an added trauma for young people who are already in an unfamiliar new environment. However, as soon as one or more children are adopted, the mandated visits cease and the relationship is no longer protected.
    This shift—from carefully promoted and structured visits—to a complete cessation of all visits—parallels the shift that occurs between when a child first enters foster care and when they are freed for adoption. Initially, the agency is mandated to work with a parent, and to offer services, toward reunification. Once a parent does not participate in those services, agencies move forward with terminating rights. The agency makes a case that adoption, rather than maintenance of the biological relationship with a parent, is in the child’s best interests. There is no case, however, that sibling relationship shouldn’t be maintained, or that their relationship is not in one another’s best interests. Siblings’ relationships, however, are de facto terminated.
    The current system is justified by a policy choice to favor “permanency” for the child and to respect the autonomy of the adoptive parent. It makes a trade-off between maintaining a sibling relationship and moving a child out of foster care and into a permanent home.

    This trade-off is not working and the system is failing children. We need to look at crucial nature of the sibling relationship, and the current social science findings about the nature of that relationship. The current system fails to reflect the psychological harm that can come from sibling separation. In light of this psychological harm, the current system actually undermines the stated goal of achieving “permanency” for children. We need to find potential solutions, and in particular, our office is looking at how attorneys for the child can advocate for visits. We are working on more overarching policy changes that could occur to address the issue.

    Please join us as we study this issue (we are currently conducting interviews with those affected) and let us know your interest in the issue.
    Dawn J. Post (dpost@clcny.org) and Sarah McCarthy (smmcarthy@clcny.org)

  4. As attorneys for the child who represent children in family court, we’ve been particularly concerned about children losing visitation after one child is adopted out of foster care, but the other is not—or when children are adopted by separate families. We’ve been interviewing children in this situation about the long-term impacts that this loss of contact post-adoption has had on their psychological stability and ability to form connections and attachments. We’ve also been interviewing children who ended up leaving or running away from their adoptive home and reconnecting with siblings. We believe that sibling contact should almost always be legally mandated post-adoption, and that, if it was, we might see fewer of these “broken adoption” situations that are tragic for children and families alike. We’re writing a law review article on the topic that we hope might prompt some change around the issue. We can be contacted at dpost@clcny.org and smccarthy@clcny.org, and at (718) 522-3333 Ext. 180. We’d be very interested in speaking with anyone who might have a story to share about this topic.

  5. Iowa DHS took my four grandchildren and adopted them out to two different homes. I wanted all four of them but they would not let me have them. The Social Worker lied to the judge to take them from me.

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