Maintaining contact with the family members of a Looked After Child is an important part of fostering training, and emphasised throughout the ‘Skills to Foster’ course, but it can also be a stressful part of the role, as well as for the child.
There is an emphasis on keeping family together where possible and this initiative has been successful in areas such as Parent and Child (sometimes called Mother and Baby Fostering) Placements. Siblings are placed together wherever possible; bearing in mind how the children interact with each other, space, and if the appropriate home is available.
Fostering siblings plays a big part in helping to keep as much of the family unit together as possible. Going into a new foster placement can be nerve-racking and scary for a child no matter what their age, but having a sibling with you, someone familiar, may ease some of the nerves and worries.
Children often have shared experiences, both good and traumatic, and siblings may be able to self counsel each other and talk about some of their experiences. This could be hard to share with strangers, even professionals.
Fostering siblings can be a challenge as they may support each other but may also collude or be less willing to allow themselves to engage with their foster family as they have their sibling with them, and as far as they are concerned they don’t need anyone else. Keeping siblings together in a foster placement is the preferred option, but it is not right for everyone.
Even if you don’t foster siblings, you are likely to have a child with you at some point that has a brother or sister or is part of a sibling group. Managing how your foster child deals with seeing (or not seeing in J’s case) their sibling will be an important part of their emotional wellbeing.
M is 17 this summer, and tends to organise contact with her sister and brother by herself. She hates me being involved and as long as I know where she’s going, I let her manage it.
Contact is emotionally charged with guilt, blame and constant arguments and, even though both her siblings are older, they all seem to revert to manipulative, childish and sometimes vindictive behaviour.
However, they are also drawn to each other and in between the bickering and insults they have loving moments and look out for one another.
M will rub her siblings up the wrong way, complain about their behaviour, shout and scream at them but if anyone else does, she turns into a vengeful protective monster!
I never agree or disagree with her when she insults or praises them, but I allow her to talk or shout, and am always non-committal. Once she has ranted about whatever perceived insult her brother has made, I don’t mention it in the future. This gives her a safe space to vent her emotions without the guilt that often comes afterwards.
On the other hand, J’s relationship with family is difficult as he very rarely has contact with his siblings. He has 4 siblings and they are all younger. J wants to see them, and looks forward to any contact that has been arranged, but it is often postponed or cancelled at the last minute and he’s become wary about getting excited.
J’s situation is complicated and subject to ongoing court proceedings, so he’s in a state of flux and has recently become angry and resentful when it comes to his family. It’s hard to counsel him as he’s unable to talk about it without an outburst of raw emotion, a meltdown, or tears. One of the decisions that will be reviewed this year will be contact in general and I know whatever is decided, it will be hard for him.
Baby S has 2 siblings and has never met either of them. She’s too young to understand why but I’m hopeful there will be future contact and she can form a relationship with someone who shares not just DNA, but a bond stronger than just a name.
I’m lucky enough to have 2 siblings of my own, and from experience I know that no matter how much you love them, they can still drive you crazy!