It’s been a long time since I looked after siblings, so for a current perspective, I spoke to a foster carer who has fostered sisters for the past 4 years.
I’ve changed the names of the family and children to protect their identity. Jackie is a foster carer who I was put in touch with when I first started fostering; she was approved a few months before me. I didn’t know her before I started fostering but since we were introduced we have become part of each other’s support network, as well as friends over the years.
Amy and Kirsty came to Jackie late on a Friday afternoon, with just the basic information available.
They were dropped off by their social worker, who said they were likely to stay for the weekend while they found out all the details, and a more convenient location for them but would be found on Monday.
Amy and Kirsty were from a different borough but, with no local foster carers available, Jackie was called and with 4 hours’ notice, Jackie had quickly got the rooms ready for them.
She remembers how they looked as they walked up her pathway; small, scared and clutching each other’s hand. Amy was 8 and Kirsty 5, but Jackie said they both looked much younger.
Jackie got them settled in her kitchen with a mug of hot chocolate, but they didn’t say a word. Unperturbed by the silence, Jackie carried on talking, telling the sisters about the family pets and when they had finished their drink, she took them up to the rooms she had prepared.
The girls, stood without seeming to see the pretty pink and lilac duvets on the beds or the quickly retrieved box of toys from storage. Like most foster carers, Jackie has a stock of toys and clothes of various ages for when a new placement arrives. Jackie called me the night they arrived, and I can remember her saying how quiet and withdrawn they looked. She told me she had given each child their own room but quickly changed her mind and moved both beds into one room. They looked immediately relieved.
The weekend, she said, went in a flash but still with few words from the girls. Amy said a few words at breakfast and had spoken for Kirsty. She told Jackie that Kirsty doesn’t eat brown bread and Kirsty doesn’t want cereal.
Kirsty had just sat and stared at Jackie. In the end, the sisters had eaten scrambled eggs, pushing the food around their plates, almost looking for something hiding in the meal.
Unsurprisingly, the girls didn’t leave on Monday and Jackie carried on making meals, taking them out to the park or walking the dog as they followed mostly silently behind her.
The sisters didn’t talk much to Jackie or Bernie (her husband) but they did talk to each other. Jackie said she could hear them at night and would often knock and enter in the morning to find them in the same bed. She said she was pleased they could find comfort from each other.
Weeks and then months rolled by with Amy and Kirsty still with Jackie and Bernie, by which time they were enrolled in a local school as the hour long trip each way to school had been untenable.
Since starting at the local school, the girls had become more vocal, probably because Amy wasn’t in class to talk for Kirsty, but they were still quiet.
Without going into detail of their situation; they suffered neglect and abuse from a parent and their partners but didn’t talk about it with Jackie. As the months unfolded, Jackie told me that things in the house started disappearing.
At first, she thought she had misplaced an item, or Bernie had moved it. She said what was strange was the type of things that went missing; a photo frame with a picture of Jackie’s wedding photo, a small handmade mirror with no monetary value, various rarely used kitchen utensils, such a garlic press and a lemon squeezer, and a holiday memento from Greece were amongst the items. She casually asked both girls if they had seen them, but they shook their heads and said no. Days later while changing beds Jackie found the items hidden under Kirsty’s bed.
Jackie, trod carefully when speaking to the girls about the missing items and they each covered for the other one.
Fast forward 4 years and Jackie tells me nothing else went missing; it was as if they were testing her and how she’d react. When she didn’t scream at them or lash out, they felt as if they could trust her a little bit more and gradually Jackie built on this trust.
She says she is constantly busy, can barely go to the toilet on her own, feels like she’s on permanent laundry duty, dreams of just one hot cup of coffee a day, but loves having the girls with her.
She made me laugh out loud when she said she is sure that Kirsty’s My Little Pony collection is breeding overnight!
They fight like any other sisters close in age; argue over toys, gadgets, screen time and who sits in the prime sofa spot to watch Strictly Come Dancing.
However, they still giggle over Justin Bieber, never stop talking, share ice cream, and Amy will sit for ages brushing and styling Kirsty’s hair.
Although they now have separate rooms, Jackie still often finds them in the same bed, snuggled together.
Sometimes staying together is not best for siblings coming into foster care, but sometimes it is the very thing that gives the children strength in an unusual and scary situation.